NC36: Memorandum submitted by NASUWT

 

 

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

 

Background and the NASUWT's key concerns

In light of the importance of the National Curriculum for the learning experience of pupils and the professional and employment context of teachers, headteachers and other members of the wider school workforce, action should be taken to ensure that stakeholders are given an appropriate period of time within which to make written submissions to the Committee so that the Inquiry can be supported by appropriately detailed evidence.

 

Effective implementation of a nationally determined curriculum

The NASUWT has always supported the principle of a National Curriculum that ensures access to a common educational entitlement for all young people. The Union maintains that such a framework can be established which meets the needs of youngsters whilst giving leaders the scope to exercise appropriate degrees of professional autonomy and discretion.

 

The central importance of workforce reform and action to tackle workload

It is essential that the National Curriculum is developed and implemented in a way that supports steps being taken in all schools to tackle teacher and headteacher workload and remodel the work of teachers and the wider school workforce. The contractual changes introduced by the National Agreement in 2003, and the ongoing work to progress the wider workforce remodelling agenda, are not only important in terms of their potential to drive down teacher workload but also ensure that teachers and headteachers are allowed to focus to a greater extent on their core responsibilities for teaching and learning and managing teaching and learning and thereby raise standards of pupil achievement.

 

The role of the curriculum in tackling learner disengagement and disengagement from education

It is vital to recognise that there is a need for effective action across the maintained education system as a whole. Disaffection and disengagement are not confined to one age group. There also concerns in relation to pupils in the 5-14 age phase. The impact of the National Curriculum is critical in this regard as it forms the statutory context within which teachers and headteachers are required to establish the learning entitlements of the significant majority of pupils in the maintained school sector. In this respect, the National Curriculum should provide the means by which teachers are able to use their professional skills and expertise to offer engaging and relevant learning opportunities for pupils.

 

The role of the National Curriculum in tackling discrimination and promoting equality and diversity

The National Curriculum has a critical role in ensuring that the education system plays its full role in building an equitable and just society in challenging and countering discrimination through the promotion of equality and diversity and by being structured in a way that allows all pupils to achieve and succeed to the fullest possible extent. The curriculum should, in this context, be seen not only as a means by which all learners can acquire skills, knowledge and experience but also as a mechanism for the transmission of positive values and understandings to children and young people that can encourage and sustain efforts to develop positive and inclusive attitudes and beliefs.

 

Securing coherence between development of the National Curriculum and other curriculum-related policy initiatives and reforms

There must be recognition on the part of policy-makers of the impact of other initiatives and reforms on the professional activities of teachers and headteachers and on school-level organisation and management. Without an adequate acknowledgement of the interaction between different curricular and qualifications-related policy strands, there is a risk that additional revisions to the National Curriculum will be sought before existing reforms to the secondary education system, and those being considered by the Rose Review in the primary sector, have had an opportunity to become fully embedded within school level policy and practice.

 

The impact of the testing and assessment regime on teaching and learning within the National Curriculum

The existing model of school accountability, based on performance league tables and the OFSTED inspection regime, has a major impact on teaching and learning. The high stakes associated with performance league tables distort and narrow decisions about curriculum content and pedagogy to the detriment of teaching and learning. Despite its claims to the contrary, the current inspection system focuses almost exclusively on the nature and operation of school processes rather than outcomes. This results in schools lacking confidence and being unwilling to develop alternative approaches to teaching and learning for fear of receiving negative inspection judgements. The current system of accountability should be replaced by a more coherent and development-focused system that enables and supports schools in developing and applying diverse approaches to teaching and learning which are focused on meeting the individual needs and interests of all children and young people.

 

The role of formative assessment and the potential implications of single-level testing within the Making Good Progress pilots

Formative assessment and assessment for learning exemplify the benefits for children of teachers being given the scope to make appropriate use of their professional judgement to shape approaches to curriculum content and assessment to meet learning needs. However, school-level arrangements for formative assessment can become problematic when schools feel under pressure to implement assessment for learning in ways that are unnecessarily bureaucratic and time-consuming. In principle, the NASUWT supports the 'age not stage' approach underpinning the single level tests proposed in Making Good Progress. However, the Government will need to work with the NASUWT and other social partners to consider the implications of this approach for the future of statutory National Curriculum assessment once the results of the Making Good Progress pilots have been evaluated.

 

Reviewing the implications of a key stage-based National Curriculum

The division of the National Curriculum into fixed key stages to mark points at the end of Years 2, 6 and 9 at which pupils' national assessment results are used to inform school performance data contributes significantly to inconsistency across the National Curriculum as a whole and encourages a disjointed approach to the development of policy in this area. There is therefore a credible case for examining the potential advantages of removing key stages from the National Curriculum and investigating the extent to which this would allow for the development of more consistent and coherent approaches to the assessment and testing of pupil progress. Further, questions should be raised as to whether the current 'key stages' approach is consistent with the Children's Plan.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Introduction

 

1.     The NASUWT welcomes the opportunity to contribute to the House of Commons Children, Schools and Families Select Committee inquiry into the National Curriculum

 

2.     The NASUWT is the largest union representing teachers and headteachers throughout the UK.

 

3.      The NASUWT's evidence is based upon the consultations with members, the work of its representative committees and other structures made up of practising teachers and headteachers responsible for the implementation and delivery of the National Curriculum in the maintained schools sector in England. The issues highlighted in this evidence reflect the key concerns expressed by members and the professional and employment concerns they have in relation to the form, structure and impact of the National Curriculum at school level.

  

Background and the NASUWT's key concerns

 

4. It is legitimate and necessary that Parliament scrutinises and comments upon the impact of the National Curriculum on the educational experiences of pupils and the work of teachers, headteachers and other members of the school workforce. It is essential that teachers, headteachers, parents and all those with a legitimate stake in the education system can remain confident that the Committee will undertake its responsibilities in this respect rigorously and robustly.

 

5. The NASUWT takes the provision of written submissions to the Committee very seriously and seeks to provide evidence that will support the Committee in its deliberations on all aspects of educational policy. As a democratic organisation, the Union seeks to ensure that its submissions are reflective of the views of its membership. This requires an adequate period of time within which to consult with members about their experiences and perspectives on matters subject to inquiries by the Committee.

 

6. In light of these points, the NASUWT considers that a period of just six weeks to submit a response to the Committee is unsatisfactory.

 

7. The NASUWT has expressed similar concerns in relation to other inquiries undertaken by the Committee, most recently into the work of OFSTED, and it is to be regretted that these concerns appear not have been taken into account by the Committee in seeking submissions on the current impact and future direction of the National Curriculum. The NASUWT draws the Committee's attention to the Cabinet Office protocols on public consultations. While recognising the Committee is not obliged to abide by these protocols, the NASUWT does believe they provide the basis for ensuring good practice and state specifically that consulting bodies should give respondents a minimum period of 12 weeks within which to make written submissions.

 

8. Notwithstanding the short timescale for the Committee's Inquiry, this submission sets out the key issues from the NASUWT's perspective on areas in relation to the National Curriculum identified by the Committee in establishing the scope of its inquiry. The NASUWT's evidence considers:

 

effective implementation of a nationally determined curriculum;

the central importance of action to tackle workload and of workforce reform;

tackling learner disaffection and disengagement from learning;

coherence between development of the National Curriculum and other curriculum-related policy developments and initiatives;

the impact of the school accountability regime;

the potential implications of the Making Good Progress pilots;

limitations of the structure of the curriculum; and

the role of the National Curriculum in tackling discrimination and promoting equality and diversity.

 

 

Effective implementation of a nationally determined curriculum

 

9. The NASUWT believes that pupils learn best when teachers are given the time, resources and flexibility to make the fullest possible use of their professional talents, skills and knowledge and to exercise professional autonomy and discretion. A curricular framework that does not enable these fundamental principles will fail to provide young people with the high-quality learning experiences to which they are entitled and will undermine work at school level to continue to raise standards.

 

10. The NASUWT has always supported and continues to support the principle of a National Curriculum that ensures access to a common educational entitlement for all young people. This content, form and structure of the national framework should be developed, in partnership with all relevant stakeholders, including trade unions representing teachers, headteachers and the wider school workforce.

 

11. The need for an appropriate context that supports the ability of teachers to use their professional judgement to make decisions about the needs of individual pupils underpinned the joint evidence submitted by the NASUWT, the then Department for Education and Skills and other social partners represented on the national Rewards and Incentives Group (RIG) to the School Teachers' Review Body (STRB) in the Review Body 2005. This set out an agenda for a 'new professionalism' with teachers being given greater scope and support to use their professional skills and expertise to sustain work to continue to raise standards and enhance the breadth and range of educational provision for all pupils.

 

12. A key part of this programme of reform involves the modernisation of the way in which performance management structures within schools operate. As a result, teachers are being given the opportunity to engage in more meaningful reflection about their practice and to take part in an effective professional dialogue and development based on this reflection. This dialogue will allow for the views of teachers on the learning needs of the pupils they teach to be incorporated more coherently into school level strategies about the development of approaches to teaching and learning.

 

13. The curricular framework within which teachers undertake their professional responsibilities is of critical importance in this respect. However, to date, National Curriculum programmes of study have been inappropriately content heavy and have failed to give teachers adequate scope to make effective use of their professional judgement. In this respect, the NASUWT welcomes the recognition by the Government, highlighted in its remit to the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) in respect of recent revisions to the secondary National Curriculum, that developments in respect of curriculum content should work to ensure that teachers are given more appropriate levels of autonomy and discretion over approaches to teaching and learning and curriculum delivery.

 

14. The NASUWT acknowledges that the QCA has sought to take forward this work through reviews and revisions that involve significant reductions in curriculum content and prescription within statutory programmes of study and the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) has signalled a similar intention in relation to the proposed review of the primary curriculum. While this will remain an important element of an approach that seeks to give a higher priority to the effective use by teachers of their professional skills and expertise, it is essential that clear guidance is developed for teachers, headteachers and local authorities on the ways in which the revised National Curriculum orders should be used to support the achievement of this important objective. The NASUWT is concerned that, without such guidance, schools and local authorities may, in some instances, attempt to make use of reduced central prescription in respect of the National Curriculum to impose pedagogic approaches on teachers, that work against the Government's aspirations for a commitment to supporting and enhancing teacher professionalism. Policies premised merely on 'giving schools greater autonomy over the curriculum' could lead to the development of practices at school and local authority level that continue to impose significant restrictions on the exercise of teacher discretion on pedagogy and curriculum content and also introduce local, including in a particular school, variations which could compromise the equality of provision and access for every pupil.

 

The central importance of workforce reform and action to tackle workload

 

15. It is essential that the National Curriculum is developed and implemented in a way that supports steps being taken in all schools to tackle teacher and headteacher workload and remodel the work of teachers and the wider school workforce. The National Agreement 'Raising Standards and Tackling Workload' established a clear agenda for reform based on the principle that raising standards and tackling workload are inextricably linked and mutually supportive strategic objectives. The contractual changes introduced by the Agreement, and the ongoing work to progress the wider workforce remodelling agenda, are not only important in terms of their potential to drive down teacher workload but also ensure that teachers are allowed to concentrate to a greater extent on their core responsibilities for teaching and learning and thereby raise standards of pupil achievement. Any reform to educational policy that sets out ostensibly to contribute to raising standards but which fails to take account of workforce remodelling and work to bring downward pressure on teacher and headteacher working needs will in practice undermine the establishment of an environment within which standards can be raised on a sustainable basis. It will also impact adversely on teacher recruitment and retention as the historic view of the national curriculum development demonstrated.

 

16. While the structure and content of the National Curriculum are not, of themselves, inconsistent with the remodelling agenda and action being taken to reduce teacher and headteacher workload, the NASUWT is concerned that guidance developed to accompany the revised programmes of study does not reflect adequately the need to ensure that models of implementation of the curriculum at school level work to support these key objectives. It is essential that specific reference is made to the way in which work to implement the changes to the National Curriculum will be consistent with work to drive down the workload of teachers and headteachers.

 

17. The development of cross-curricular approaches to teaching and learning in both the primary and secondary sectors appear completely divided from workforce considerations. While the NASUWT recognises that it is appropriate for teachers and headteachers to look to explore effective links between learning in different subject areas, the Union is concerned that there is a continuing failure on the part of the QCA and other official agencies and bodies responsible for supporting teachers in the delivery of the National Curriculum to acknowledge that adoption of cross-curricular models of planning, teaching and assessment have the potential to be workload-intensive and overly bureaucratic. The NASUWT is also disappointed that the opportunities for curriculum enrichment and extension created by workforce remodelling through the engagement and effective deployment of members of the wider school workforce and sources of external expertise continue to be understated in guidance on curriculum delivery. Many primary schools have reported considerable benefits of enrichment activities which draw upon external experts in drama, sport, music and Art.

 

18. There is a clear need for the QCA, and any successor body instituted following the Government's consultation on regulating and developing qualifications and assessment to work with the DCSF, the NASUWT and other social partners to develop more effective guidance on ways in which approaches to curriculum implementation at school level can take full account of the ongoing work and commitment to reducing teacher and headteacher workload and remodel the school workforce.

 

19. Within a broader policy context, the NASUWT remains concerned that it is proposed that revisions to the National Curriculum will be introduced in September 2008 alongside a number of other significant reforms, particularly those resulting from the implementation of proposals set out in the 14-19 White Paper and changes to specifications for general qualifications arising from the QCA's review of coursework requirements.

 

20. The NASUWT believes that insufficient account has been taken of the implications for teacher workload and school-level bureaucracy of the simultaneous introduction of a range of significant and complex reforms.

 

21. Given the QCA's responsibility for the effective management and administration of the National Curriculum, the Union continues to maintain that it would be timely for the QCA to undertake an assessment, in consultation with the DCSF, the NASUWT and other social partners, of the workload and bureaucracy-related implications of reforms due to be implemented in September 2008. If such an assessment demonstrates that proceeding with implementation of the full range of reforms in 2008 would be inappropriate, the NASUWT believes that it would be justifiable and necessary for the QCA to recommend to the DCSF that the timescales for the implementation of the reforms referred to should be reconsidered.

 

The role of the curriculum in tackling learner disengagement and disengagement from education

 

22. A key aim of the Government's strategy as set out in the 14-19 White Paper and 14-19 Implementation Plan is to work to ensure that young people are given access to engaging and personally relevant learning opportunities that minimise the risk of learner disaffection and disengagement from education and its associated consequences for pupil behaviour, attendance at school and educational achievement.

 

23. While the NASUWT supports this key policy objective, it is important to recognise that the need to take effective action across the maintained sector as a whole, given that disaffection and disengagement are concerns in relation to pupils in the 5-14 age phase. The impact of the National Curriculum is critical in this regard as it forms the statutory context within which teachers and headteachers are required to establish the learning entitlements of the significant majority of pupils in the maintained school sector. The National Curriculum should therefore provide the means by which teachers are able to use their professional skills and expertise to offer engaging and relevant learning opportunities for pupils, unencumbered by the demands of an excessively formalised and overloaded programme of study.

 

24. The Union does however believe that the revisions made to the secondary programmes of study have the potential to make a significant contribution to allowing teachers to plan for the delivery of learning experiences that will engage and support pupils at risk of disengagement from learning. The reductions in content and direction within the programmes of study are particularly welcome in this respect. It is important that this aspect of the reform to the programmes of study at Key Stages 3 and 4 is reflected in any proposed reviews to the primary National Curriculum which emerge as a result of the current Review being chaired by Jim Rose.

 

25. It will be important to ensure that the potential support given by revised programmes of study for the professional activities of teachers is given meaningful practical effect.

 

 

 

The role of the National Curriculum in tackling discrimination and promoting equality and diversity

 

26. The NASUWT believes that the curriculum has a critical role in ensuring that the education system plays its full role in building an equitable and just society, in challenging and countering discrimination through the promotion of equality and diversity, and by being structured in a way that allows all pupils to achieve and succeed to the fullest possible extent. The curriculum should, in this context, be seen not only as a means by which all learners can acquire skills, knowledge and experience but also as a mechanism for the transmission of positive values and understanding to children and young people which encourage and sustain efforts to develop positive and inclusive attitudes and beliefs.

 

27. The ability of the curriculum to make a positive and powerful contribution in this respect depends critically on the support it provides to teachers, headteachers and other members of the school workforce in terms of its design and the quality of related guidance available to facilitate its effective implementation at school level. While specific and discrete curricular work to tackle discrimination and promote equality and diversity can make an effective contribution to pupils' learning experiences, there is a danger that an overemphasis on strategies of this type can lead to the development of a disjointed and incoherent approach that regards this aspect of the curriculum as 'bolt-on' areas rather than integral to other elements of learning.

 

28. For this reason, meaningful strategies for tackling discrimination and promoting equality and diversity should seek to embed learning in this respect across the curriculum as a whole. The adoption of a holistic curricular approach not only maximises opportunities to support the progress of all pupils but also demonstrates in a concrete way to children and young people the need to view the promotion of equality and diversity as central concerns in all aspects of their own lives and those of others.

 

29. In relation to the proposed revisions to the secondary National Curriculum, the NASUWT has been encouraged by the development of guidance by the QCA on ways in which cultural understanding and diversity can be addressed through the subject-based programmes of study. The guidance represents significant progress in comparison to previous iterations of the National Curriculum and has the potential to act as a basis by which practice at school level can continue to develop and should be reflected in any future reforms to the primary National Curriculum.

 

30. Nevertheless, the NASUWT believes that the QCA or any successor body should continue to seek ways in which the guidance it has developed to date might be enhanced still further. While it is important to seek ways in which curricular activities related to tackling discrimination and promoting equality and diversity might be incorporated in all National Curriculum subjects, there remains the risk that such work might continue to be compartmentalised as a distinct element within each subject rather than being developed as an embedded element of all aspects of teaching.

 

31. The Union notes that the QCA intends to develop an audit tool to allow schools to assess the extent to which all pupils are able to access and benefit from the National Curriculum. The NASUWT believes that the QCA must work with the NASUWT, the DCSF and other social partners to develop further guidance to support the consolidation and enhancement of effective holistic policy and practice at school level in this critical aspect of the learning offer made to pupils.

 

Securing coherence between development of the National Curriculum and other curriculum-related policy initiatives and reforms

 

32. It is important that the development of policy in respect of the National Curriculum takes into full account the interconnections between the National Curriculum and other significant areas of education policy. In addition to the need to acknowledge the implications of workforce remodelling and reform, including the 'new professionalism' agenda, there must be recognition on the part of policy-makers of the impact of other initiatives and reforms on the professional activities of teachers and headteachers and on school level organisation and management. Without an adequate acknowledgement of the interaction between different curricular and qualifications-related policy strands, there is a risk that additional revisions to the National Curriculum will be sought before existing reforms to the secondary education system and those being considered by the Rose Review in the primary sector have had an opportunity to become fully embedded within school level policy and practice.

 

33. Focusing on the interconnections between the National Curriculum and education policy, the Children's Plan calls for a holistic approach to policy development and implementation. The National Curriculum should, therefore, be seen as a whole, with seamless movement across phases and sectors.

 

34. Specific attention must be given to the impact of policy that on teachers and headteachers in respect of teaching and learning. In relation to the 14-19 curriculum and qualifications system in particular, the work towards full introduction of the specialised diplomas by 2013 is of particular importance. While the diplomas represent an additional route towards accredited learning for pupils at Key Stage 4, they will be taught within a context of an ongoing entitlement to access to the National Curriculum. It is therefore essential that the work of pupils within the context of specialised diplomas will also ensure full access to National Curriculum learning entitlements.

 

35. The specifications for the diplomas are also critical in this respect. The NASUWT is aware that the QCA has specific responsibilities arising from the 14-19 Implementation Plan for ensuring that diploma specifications are appropriate and consistent with the provisions of the National Curriculum. It should be noted that this work has been undertaken to date within a context established by the existing programmes of study. It is therefore essential that the DCSF and the QCA work to ensure that diploma design will secure consistency across diploma lines and across the full curriculum and qualification offer.

 

36. The specifications for general qualifications where they impact upon the National Curriculum are important in similar respects. In light of the increased advocacy of cross-curricular approaches to curriculum delivery, it is necessary to consider the impact of revisions to the programmes of study to specifications in subjects beyond those included in compulsory elements of the Key Stage 4. In its role as the regulator of awarding bodies for general qualifications, QCA or any successor body will have a clear responsibility to ensure that effective steps are taken to ensure that relevant subject specifications are consistent with the proposed amendments to the programmes of study.

 

37. In relation to pedagogy and professional practice, the NASUWT draws attention to the report of the Teaching and Learning in 2020 Review Group on personalisation and the curriculum. It is clear from initiatives, including those associated with the Making Good Progress proposals, that the Government remains committed to the personalisation agenda and it is likely that expectations on schools in this regard will continue to evolve over time.

 

38. While the NASUWT notes that the accompanying guidance to the revised secondary programmes of study seek to emphasise the importance of the development of personal skills on the part of pupils, it is not as yet clear how the revisions to the secondary National Curriculum will be consistent with the personalisation agenda. It is essential that expectations on teachers, headteachers and members of the school workforce in respect of personalisation do not contradict the requirements in respect of the National Curriculum. Therefore, it will be necessary for this issue to be taken into full account as part of the Rose Review of the National Curriculum in the primary phase.

 

39. The achievement of coherence and consistency in respect of pedagogical expectations requires the implications of the impact on teaching and learning of the Primary and Secondary National Strategy (PNS/SNS) frameworks for approaches to teaching and learning to be taken into full account.

 

40. Although the Strategy frameworks are not statutory, it is clear that the Government remains committed to their ongoing development and use within schools and that OFSTED continues to emphasise their importance in the development of effective approaches to curriculum planning and delivery at school level. This underlines the importance of ensuring that the Strategy frameworks continue to be developed within the context of the requirements of the National Curriculum programmes of study. It is likely that revisions to the National Curriculum will prompt further reforms to the Strategy frameworks and sustained co-ordination of activity between the QCA, any successor body and the Strategies, undertaken in consultation with the NASUWT and other social partners, will be necessary as a result.

 

41. The attention of the Committee is drawn to the recent amendments made to the primary frameworks for English and mathematics. Any revisions to the primary National Curriculum that result from the Rose Review must avoid the creation of excessive turbulence within the system by not promoting approaches to reform that would involve significant amendments to the strategies in place in schools to implement the revised frameworks. In a similar regard, any revisions to the primary National Curriculum arising from the Rose Review must support effective transition to Key Stage 1 by taking full account of the implications of the new Early Years Foundation Stage for approaches to teaching and learning for young children.

 

The impact of the testing and assessment regime on teaching and learning within the National Curriculum

 

42. Meaningful assessment of the way in which approaches to the curricular framework for teaching and learning should develop requires sufficient consideration of the impact of the current system of school accountability on the provision of learning within schools.

 

43. The high-stakes associated with performance league tables, with potentially serious consequences for schools of perceived failure, puts pressure on schools to deliver quantitative pupil outcomes at fixed points in pupils' school careers. Not only does this have the potential to undermine efforts (seen most clearly in the development of the 14-19 reform programme) to build an education system that seeks to meet learners' needs on the basis of their stage of development rather than their chronological age but it also distorts and narrows decisions about curriculum content and pedagogy to the detriment of teaching and learning strategies that are focused primarily on addressing the personal learning needs of all pupils. In this respect, the achievements of teachers, headteachers and other members of the school workforce in securing effective approaches to teaching and learning within the framework of the National Curriculum have been delivered in spite of, not because of, the impact of performance league tables.

 

44. The current school accountability regime works against the positive aims for learners that the National Curriculum frameworks seek to deliver. Examination of the existing constraints on the development of future approaches to the curriculum cannot avoid consideration of the impact of the way in which schools currently are held to account for the learning outcomes of pupils.

 

45. The NASUWT continues to reject solutions to these concerns which are premised on the over-simplistic view that simply by abolishing the National Curriculum tests and replacing them with internal teacher assessment, the constraints on effective approaches to curriculum implementation created by the school accountability regime will be reduced. This assertion is flawed as it is based on the false premise that it is the tests themselves that are at the heart of the problems associated with systems of school accountability.

 

46. In the NASUWT's view, it is not the tests that are the problem but the uses to which they are put in informing performance league tables, thus forcing schools to focus disproportionately on assessment outcomes rather than the learning needs of individual pupils. Replacement of tests with teacher assessment within the context of a 'high-stakes' school accountability regime would not only increase teacher workload excessively through increased assessment burdens but also would distract teachers from their core responsibilities for teaching and learning. Evidence for this can be seen in Wales. There, the abandonment of the tests has resulted, ironically, not only in more testing, with skills tests introduced in every year group, but also in an increase in workload-intensive teacher assessment and bureaucratic moderation systems which require significant release of teachers from their timetable commitments to participate.

 

47. Regardless of whether data to inform performance league tables is generated by tests or teacher assessment, the distortions of the curriculum that performance league tables create will continue to work against the development of the genuinely personalised approaches to teaching and learning that the DCSF envisages in its Children's Plan.

 

48. A further key component of the current school accountability arrangements, which will impact on the capacity of schools to continue to deliver effective approaches to curriculum implementation, is the school inspection system and the role of OFSTED. It is essential that the inspection system is fit for purpose and that it both enables and supports schools in developing and applying diverse approaches which are relevant to the schools' contexts and the needs of learners.

 

49. OFSTED rightly recognises that its responsibility is for educational outcomes, not processes. However, there is considerable evidence to confirm that, across all schools, the current inspection arrangements are focused almost exclusively on the nature and operation of school processes.

 

50. Many schools have reported that they lack the confidence and are unwilling to develop alternative approaches to teaching and learning for fear of receiving a negative inspection judgement or because there is no discernible 'approval' from OFSTED for doing so.

 

51. It is vital that the framework for inspection, and the practice of inspection teams on the ground, does not deflect school leaders and staff from building on the principles of workforce remodelling in order to continue to develop and apply effective and engaging approaches to teaching and learning within the framework established by the National Curriculum.

 

52. It is therefore essential to recognise the need for the inspection system to provide the necessary accountability conditions that support the most creative and pupil-focused implementation of the provisions of the National Curriculum. Such recognition will require changes to be made to inspection guidance and practice and in the training of inspection teams, as part of a wholesale effort to ensure a fit-for-purpose accountability system. In particular, it is important to ensure that all inspection teams have relevant, up-to-date experience of teaching the age ranges they are inspecting.

 

The role of formative assessment and the potential implications of single-level testing within the Making Good Progress pilots

 

53. The NASUWT shares the recognition by the Government in taking forward its Making Good Progress pilots that formative assessment is an integral feature of effective teaching practice. Formative assessment and assessment for learning exemplify the benefits for children of teachers being given the scope to make appropriate use of their professional judgement to shape approaches to curriculum content and assessment to meet learning needs.

 

54. However, school-level arrangements for formative assessment can become problematic when schools feel under pressure to implement assessment for learning in ways that are unnecessarily bureaucratic and time-consuming as a result of a perceived need to provide meaningless paper trails to demonstrate to OFSTED inspection teams or other external auditors of school performance that effective approaches to formative assessment have been put in place. Assessment for learning conducted in this way is of limited use to parents or pupils in identifying and working towards future learning goals and distracts teachers from activities directly related to supporting pupils to make progress.

 

55. The NASUWT believes that the Making Good Progress pilots provide an opportunity for the DCSF to work with the NASUWT and other social partners to develop approaches to assessment for learning that do not lead to inappropriate burdens being placed on teachers but which serve professional assessment needs and support the work of teachers in engaging pupils more effectively in evaluating their own progress and areas for future development.

 

56. In respect of statutory external testing, the NASUWT is encouraged by the proposals in Making Good Progress that single-level testing should be undertaken when teachers believe that the results of their formative assessment of pupils indicate that they have progressed from one National Curriculum level to the next and to trial this approach in pilot schools. The Union shares the concerns of the Government that, at present, statutory end of key stage testing prevents teachers from exercising their professional judgement in this way although the Union has expressed disappointment that the Government intends to continue with end of key stage testing in schools where the single-level tests are being trialled.

 

57. The NASUWT believes that the DCSF should work with other social partners to examine the outcomes of the pilot of this reformed approach to external testing to examine the extent to which undertaking testing based upon pupils' stage of development rather than chronological age can support more effective use of performance data at school level.

 

58. In light of concerns about externally moderated teacher assessment described above, the NASUWT has welcomed the continued use of external marking in respect of the single-level tests being trialled as part of the pilot.

 

59. The NASUWT is reassured that the Government has recognised that there is a risk that the introduction of a series of single-level tests could lead to additional bureaucratic and workload burdens on schools given that such tests would be taken more frequently. As the pilots progress, it will be important for the Government to work with the NASUWT and other social partners to ensure that the potential benefits of a 'stage not age' approach to testing are complemented by the establishment of procedures that recognise the need to avoid negative workload and bureaucratic consequences for teachers and headteachers and to resolve any initial concerns in relation to the design and content of the tests themselves.

 

Reviewing the implications of a key stage-based National Curriculum

 

60. The NASUWT shares the concerns set out in DCSF-commissioned research about the need to develop effective strategies and support for the transition of pupils between different phases of the education system.[1] Given its applicability to pupils across the 5-16 age range, the National Curriculum should provide the basis upon which effective progression in learning can be secured when pupils transfer from primary to secondary education.

 

61. However, there are longstanding concerns about the coherence of the National Curriculum as a result of its division into four distinct age-related key stages. The development of the National Curriculum has been marked by an approach that focuses on reform of specific key stages without adequate reference to the implications teaching and learning in preceding or subsequent key stages. The recent separate revisions to the Foundation Stage, the programmes of study at Key Stages 3 and 4 and the Rose Review of the primary curriculum serve to exemplify the piecemeal approach to curriculum reform seen to date.

 

62. This has significant consequences for the work that teachers undertake with pupils, particularly in respect of the comparability of level descriptors between different key stages. The assumption that the criteria by which pupils' progress is described by National Curriculum level descriptors are consistent between Key Stages 2 and 3 is difficult to sustain in light of the evidence generated by teachers' experience of managing transition between primary and secondary education.[2]

 

63. The NASUWT contends that the division of the National Curriculum into fixed key stages to mark points at the end of Years 2, 6 and 9 at which pupils' national assessment results are used to inform school performance data, contributes significantly to inconsistency across the National Curriculum as a whole and encourages a disjointed approach to the development of policy in this area. In light of the proposals set out in the Making Good Progress initiative to pilot testing on the basis of pupils' stage of development rather than chronological age and the intention of the Children's Plan to create a holistic approach to educating and supporting children, the NASUWT believes that there is a strong case for examining the potential advantages of removing key stages from the National Curriculum and investigating the extent to which this would allow for the development of more consistent and coherent approaches to the assessment of pupil progress. Questions should also be raised as to whether the current 'key stages' approach is consistent with the aims of the Children's Plan.

 

 



[1] Sanders, D., White, G., et al (2005). A Study of the Transition from the Foundation Stage to Key Stage 1. (DfES Research Report SSU/2005//013). London, DfES

[2] Herrington, N. and Doyle, L. (1997). Curriculum Continuity between Primary and Secondary School. London, Teacher Training Agency