Memorandum submitted by The Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL)

 

Executive Summary

 

ATL is committed to the idea of a National Curriculum. We believe that all pupils should be entitled to access a broad and balanced curriculum. To support this, we state the following:

 

That the entitlement of all pupils to a broad and balanced curriculum should be secured through state intervention;

 

That the current National Curriculum is in need of urgent review and change;

 

That the National Curriculum should be built from the foundations up, i.e. from Early Years Foundation Stage through to the successive Key Stages;

 

That the principle of subsidiarity should apply to the school curriculum; decisions should be made at the lowest appropriate level.

 

That any changes should be properly costed, trialled and evaluated before implementation.

 

ATL believes the purpose of a National Curriculum is to set out the skills, attitudes and understanding which pupils need now and in future for employment, caring roles and citizenship. In order to be fit for this purpose:

 

The National Curriculum needs to be re-defined in terms of skills, including academic subject and work-related skills, but not limited to either;

 

The National Curriculum needs to promote the 'whole' child, using the five Every Child Matters outcomes as a good starting point;

 

The curriculum as taught should be designed locally, based upon a needs analysis which is set in the context of national entitlement and strategy but is rooted in local circumstances;

 

The National Curriculum needs to be flexible, allowing more time for innovation and adaptation to local need.

 

ATL identifies key barriers to innovation and flexibility in the taught curriculum:

 

The National Strategies, due to their prescriptive nature, have stifled innovation and narrowly focused the primary curriculum on literacy and numeracy at the expense of the broader curriculum, including science. They have also had a narrowing effect on the teaching of English and Maths.

 

The current testing and assessment regime, including single-level tests currently being piloted, narrows the taught curriculum, undermines the Every Child Matters agenda and demotivates learners.

 

Limited reviews of curriculum, such as the Rose curriculum review, which is attempting to ask questions about the primary curriculum without addressing the impact of assessment and testing, and which is under pressure to ensure certain ministerial priorities (such as foreign language teaching) are included.

 

An emphasis on personalised learning as a tool to support particular strategies with little room for the teacher autonomy to put it into effect nor an understanding of the social purpose of education.

 

An excessive accountability framework which, through fears in schools of negative Ofsted reports or a fall in place on the league tables, stifles innovation and creativity.

 

The current model of teachers as technicians, implementing the decisions of others, rather than as experts equipped and empowered to lead a continuing debate within their schools about curriculum, pedagogy and assessment.

ATL welcomes the opportunities being provided through the lighter Key Stage 3 curriculum and the 14-19 agenda for the curriculum to become more flexible, preparing the ground for a meaningful review in 2013 of qualifications. We would like the Rose Review to open up opportunities for greater flexibility in the primary curriculum. Although we have concerns about the Single-Level test, we recognise the good-will in this attempt to deal with the levels of pressure and curriculum-narrowing caused by high-stakes end-of-stage testing. However, we believe that more needs to be done and that to drive this change, a coherent vision of education is needed.

 

ATL's recommendations for action are for the government to do the following:

 

Open up the debate around curriculum. Review the current curriculum, from Early Years Foundation Stage upwards, with a wide remit which includes the impact of the current assessment system on curriculum coverage and on teaching and learning. As part of this review, the government should:

 

Investigate the re-framing of the National Curriculum. ATL proposes that it should be re-framed in terms of skills in a light national framework.

 

Review the centralisation of curriculum design and development, exploring options around the localisation of such activity.

 

Consider how the 'whole' child, as a moral, social, physical and intellectual being, can be served by the National Curriculum and the permeation of the Every Child Matters agenda in all aspects.

 

Re-consider the current dichotomy between academic and vocational skills, which is unhelpful and limiting.

 

To cost, trial and evaluate any proposed change properly, before implementation. This must include impact on teaching and learning, on pupils and on the professionalism of teachers.

 

Develop Assessment for Learning pilots in schools exempt from national testing during the pilot period.

 

Prioritise professional development for teachers in curriculum design and assessment.

 

End the use of national testing as market information and accountability mechanisms and to explore options of cohort sampling to meet national monitoring needs.

 

Abolish school performance league tables.

 

Postpone national testing until a terminal stage.




ATL - leading education union

 

1. ATL, as a leading education union, recognises the link between education policy and our members' conditions of employment. Our evidence-based policy making enables us to campaign and negotiate from a position of strength. We champion good practice and achieve better working lives for our members. We help our members, as their careers develop, through first-rate research, advice, information and legal support. Our 160,000 members - teachers, lecturers, headteachers and support staff - are empowered to get active locally and nationally. We are affiliated to the TUC, and work with government and employers by lobbying and through social partnership.

 

2. ATL has produced Subject to Change: New Thinking on the Curriculum which questions whether our current curriculum and assessment systems are fit for purpose for the needs of society and our young people in the 21st century. This submission is based on these arguments and we strongly welcome this Inquiry into the National Curriculum.

 

Whether there should there be a National Curriculum

 

3. ATL is committed to the idea of a National Curriculum. We believe that all pupils should be entitled to access a broad and balanced curriculum. Before the introduction of the National Curriculum in 1988, many schools, with autonomy on curriculum issues, did not provide this entitlement. There was a strong tendency towards class and gender differentiation. We believe it appropriate that this entitlement is secured through state intervention, if necessary.

 

4. However, what we currently have is a highly centralised 'state' curriculum, subject to ministerial enthusiasms which is over-prescriptive in detail. Its almost total coverage is a substantial barrier to innovation, although ATL celebrates those professionals who have overcome this. According to a 2006 survey, less than four percent of teachers believe that the National Curriculum meets the needs of all their pupils1. Almost 90% of teachers want their school to have greater freedom to develop the curriculum.

 

5. ATL believes that the current National Curriculum is in need of urgent review and change. Elements of ATL's curriculum policy Subject to Change: New Thinking on the Curriculum are as follows:

All children and young people should be entitled to a curriculum that is broad, balanced and relevant to their learning needs.

There should be greater coherence in the principles and values across the key stages and consistency with the Early Years Foundation Stage.

The principle of subsidiarity should apply to the school curriculum; decisions should be made at the lowest appropriate level.

Any change to the school curriculum should be properly costed, trialled and evaluated before it is implemented.

 

What the purpose of the National Curriculum should be

 

6. "A curriculum is a blueprint for what we want children to become."2 Paul Hirst

ATL welcomes this question about the purpose of a National Curriculum. To answer it involves asking whether schooling is concerned with the whole person as a physical, moral, social and intellectual being, or is it about the acquisition of a narrow range of skills and knowledge, which are evidenced in a particular form, such as the written word, with diversionary activities for those who cannot cope. Whilst statements of principle emphasise the former, the curriculum as taught looks suspiciously like the latter.

 

7. ATL's curriculum vision is based on the whole person. We believe that a National Curriculum should set out the skills, attitudes and understanding which pupils need now and in the future for employment, caring roles and citizenship. If the curriculum is to meet all the needs of the whole pupil, without denying the importance of literacy and numeracy, it cannot be an 'academic' curriculum where pupils spend most of their time reading and writing and learning facts that have been organised into academic 'subjects'. Instead, the National Curriculum should give equal weight to a variety of skills that will be useful in the whole range of adult roles, including but not limited to the economic role.

 

How best to balance central prescription and flexibility at school/classroom level

 

8. ATL's curriculum proposals assume that the best learning is social and active, with opportunities to make decisions, make mistakes and take responsibility. Learning is more likely to be long-lasting if children have opportunities to become engrossed and are challenged at the edges of their capabilities. In this context, the curriculum is described in terms of a process as well as intended outcomes; the habits of learning are just as important as the items learnt. Indeed, more advanced versions of this line stress that children create knowledge. As the action research project Enquiring Minds puts it: "children are active agents in social life; they construct meaning out of their diverse experiences. Though this may sound obvious, it is important to realise that this is not the view on which much schooling is based".3

 

9. Research from ATL demonstrates that the most effective teachers are those who are able to create a classroom dynamic in which pupils develop a sense of ownership4. This is very difficult to achieve, however, when the knowledge content to be covered is so tightly prescribed. This work also confirms how much the present regime is resented by pupils. The idea of the learner as agent, who puts together their own discoveries to create their own knowledge, does not lead necessarily to a proposal for pupil control of the curriculum. What is necessary is flexibility; a recognition that learning outcomes, in terms of knowledge certainly, are unpredictable.

 

10. The knowledge model causes a fundamental problem for curriculum designers. Knowledge is expanding at an astonishing rate. Some of it is just extra detail of a known framework, but much of it is not. This gives rise to two separate problems. One is the increased difficulty of selection from an escalating number of items. Second is the need for a dynamic model of curriculum development, whereas change to a National Curriculum is always laborious and bureaucratic. Whilst it is right to treat government decisions on the learning of every child with due deliberation and wide consultation, it makes the National Curriculum slow to respond to change.

 

11. In the past, in England, the pressure has been to add items to the curriculum rather than remove them. When the Government decided to impose greater emphasis on English and maths on primary schools, for example, it avoided the overcrowded argument by removing the requirement to comply in full with the programmes of study for the foundation subjects. The result in primary schools has been to narrow the curriculum, which calls into question the important principle of an entitlement to a broad and balanced education. It is difficult to see how the overcrowding tendency can be avoided if the curriculum is defined in detail.

 

12. Most schools in England claim that they have no time left over after meeting the demands of the National Curriculum. Many teachers claim that overcrowding significantly damages pedagogy, by requiring coverage of the programme of study at such a pace that there is no time to go down interesting by-ways when they open up in lessons. A National Curriculum should not dictate the entire content of teaching. Curriculum innovation by teachers at local level is important for a number of reasons. It requires teachers to reflect deeply on their pupils' learning needs and their own teaching, thus using higher order skills and knowledge other than the craft skills required to 'deliver' a lesson. It produces and reproduces a vital stock of expertise in curriculum design, without which it is difficult to see where the next generation of National Curriculum designers will come from. Potentially it provides a point of contact between the school and the community if the innovation is in response to a local need or draws on local resources. And it creates a sense of dynamism in schools.

 

13. ATL proposes a re-defining of the National Curriculum, in terms of skills. ATL's proposed skills curriculum is not limited to academic subject skills, although it includes them nor is it limited to work-related skills, although it includes them too. A new National Curriculum should place under one umbrella the whole range of outcomes for all pupils expected by the state. The major difference from previous curriculum models is that it should consider the needs of the whole person without assuming that the academic or intellectual aspects should have a higher status than the others. A truly comprehensive curriculum should rebalance the academic, situated in the mind, against those parts of humanity situated in the body, the heart and the soul. The twenty-first century requires a population with higher levels of social, emotional and moral capability, and a regenerated capacity for doing and making.

 

14. This curriculum is not anti-intellectual. The skills of metacognition (of reasoning about one's own thinking and learning), of interpreting, codifying and evaluating knowledge are becoming increasingly important and we cannot leave it to chance that young people learn how to think metacognitively. This curriculum is not anti-knowledge; it would simply promote knowledge transformation over knowledge transmission.

 

15. Schools have been placed under the duty to promote the five outcomes of the Every Child Matters agenda: being healthy; staying safe; enjoying and achieving; making a positive contribution; and achieving economic well-being. This widens the required angle of vision of schools, after a period of unrelenting single-minded attention to 'standards'. Every Child Matters endorses a perspective of a pupil as a person and it provides a reminder that the curriculum needs to be responsive to a wide range of learning needs for people in the twenty-first century.

 

16. ATL believes that the National Curriculum should give equal weight to a variety of skills that will be useful in the whole range of adult roles, including but not limited to the economic role. These would include:

physical skills of co-ordination, control, manipulation and movement;

creativity;

communication;

information management;

learning and thinking skills;

interpersonal

citizenship.

This light framework National Curriculum should be built from the foundations up, ie from the Early Years Foundation Stage through to the successive Key Stages. It will specify what learners are able to do, rather than what they know.

 

17. For example, the young historian understands chronology and enjoys the idea of locating evidence, weighing pieces of evidence, having regard to their sources, and coming to judgments about past events. History is an example of a subject already partly defined in terms of skills such as these, and its assessment attempts to be consistent with this. The skills-based curriculum simply extends the idea by promoting this approach to all subjects. The virtue of the skills-based curriculum is that it would be for schools to decide how to organise their time to ensure coverage of all the skills, including the academic.

 

18. "In times of change learners inherit the earth while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped for a world that no longer exists." Eric Hoffer, Philosopher.

In every sphere of intellectual endeavour, the volume of production is increasing as never before. As the total knowledge of our physical and social worlds doubles and redoubles, the onus on educators is continually to re-assess the selection of that knowledge to ensure it is worthy of transmission. Some areas of learning / subjects are subject to rapid change with huge consequence to society. In these areas in particular, there is a strong argument that change is too rapid for a state curriculum to keep up. What learners and teachers need is a more flexible arrangement to enable them to respond quickly to a changing knowledge base.

 

19. ATL believes that the curriculum as taught should be designed locally. It should be based upon a needs analysis which is set in the context of a national entitlement and strategy but is rooted in local circumstances. Local development should focus on the knowledge content through which skills can be developed. This would enable teachers to provide curricula that are more relevant to their pupils' needs and interests, and promote greater spontaneity. We do not specify a definition of 'local' but would expect a variety of models to develop. These might be at school or cluster level, or perhaps at local authority or even regional levels, but they must contain the flexibility to respond to local and changing needs.

 

How effective the National Strategies are in supporting the National Curriculum

 

20. One of the key effects of the National Literacy and National Numeracy Strategies has been to organise learning into a sequence of teaching objectives. Its impact has been felt in all primary classrooms, but not always positively. The Cambridge Primary Review finds that, in response to the Strategies' demands, the primary curriculum has become narrowly focused on literacy and numeracy at the expense of the broader curriculum, even science, which has been in "marginal decline" since 1997.5

 

21. Recent developments of the Strategies, aimed to give more weight to previously neglected elements, e.g. speaking and listening in English and practical application and problem-solving in Maths, have yet to have significant impact with pupils. The result is that English is seen by pupils as mainly literacy (with writing unpopular) and mathematics perceived as 'sums'. The Cambridge Review identifies the cause as lying within mixed messages from the centre: "Although oracy (listening and speaking) has equal status with literacy in terms of the detail in the Programmes of Study and within the attainment targets and level descriptions (English in the National Curriculum), other official documents belie this apparent parity of esteem."6

 

22. These issues are recognised by teachers but there has been little meaningful engagement at national level. The Cambridge Primary Review identifies the lack of consistent attention to key findings from one OfSTED national report on English and literacy curriculum to the next. The evidence base for the National Literacy Strategy is hardly extensive and therefore questionable in some of its recommendations; the requirement for teachers to adopt the 'synthetic phonics' approach to the teaching of reading continues to be contentious and some argue is not supported by sufficient research evidence (see Wyse and Styles 2007) and yet this is now part of extensive guidance documents and training for teachers7.

 

Impact of current testing and assessment regime on the delivery and scope of the National Curriculum

 

23. There is no necessary connection between a national curriculum and national testing, but in England the two came together because the legislation introducing the curriculum also introduced tests as accountability and market information mechanisms. Curriculum designers know that this is how not to do it, assessment should follow curriculum, but in England the 'core' subjects were described in sufficient detail to be the syllabuses for a series of national tests: curriculum following assessment. When the curriculum is subordinate to the test there is inevitably an undue emphasis on knowledge outcomes rather than the learning process with consequent damage to pupils' overall experience.

 

24. Narrowing of the curriculum

A central proposition to the introduction of the National Curriculum in 1988 was the entitlement of pupils to access a broad and balanced curriculum. However, the amount of high-stakes testing has had a well-documented narrowing effect on the curriculum, undermining this entitlement for many pupils, particularly in schools fearful of low scores on the league tables. Webb and Vulliamy, carrying out research commissioned by ATL, document this effect in the primary sector; the standards agenda, through national curriculum testing in English, Mathematics and Science at various key stages and related performance league tables, 'focused teachers' attention on curriculum coverage in literacy, numeracy and science to the detriment of the rest of the primary curriculum'.8 However, it is not just teachers and their representatives who are expressing this concern; Ofsted state in their 2005 evaluation of the impact of the Primary National Strategy in schools that the raising standards agenda has been the primary concern of most headteachers and subject leaders coupled with a far more cautionary approach in promoting greater flexibility within the curriculum. Ofsted also recognises the narrowing effect which Key Stage 2 tests have on teaching of the curriculum, in terms of time and also in terms of support for earlier year groups.9

 

25. Undermining the Every Child Matters agenda

The negative impact of current assessment mechanisms is not only diluting the principles of the curriculum vision of 1988, it is undermining the current Every Child Matters agenda. The longitudinal PACE project in primary schools in England observed that curriculum and testing pressures appeared to be 'diminishing the opportunities for teachers to work in a way that enables them to "develop the whole child" and address the social concerns of the wider society'.10 The Assessment Reform Group notes the lack of correlation between 'the narrow range of learning outcomes assessed by tests...with the broad view of learning goals reflected in the DfES (now DCSF) Every Child Matters policy document'.11 This tension at school level between narrow standards and school goals of engendering pupil enjoyment and creativity was strongly expressed by the headteachers who took part in ATL's research by Webb and Vulliamy.

 

26. Impact on teachers and teaching

ATL's members, teachers and support staff, with pupils, are bearing the brunt of the testing overload and the high-stakes pressure. They are frustrated by the narrowing of the curriculum and the need to ready pupils for ever-increasing numbers of tests. This pressure drives many teachers to be 'presenters of content', teaching to the test, to ensure that their pupils succeed in the narrow focus of the tests and that the school receives a good ranking on the performance tables. This process is ultimately de-skilling; an enforced focus on performance outcomes lessens and undermines richer assessment skills and feedback and will ultimately weaken these skills within the profession.

 

27. The high-stakes context of the current assessment system limits the value of achievement data. Tests do not usually test the full range of what is taught and in low-stakes contexts that limited range of achievement can indicate achievement across the whole subject.12 Yet we know that once assessment occurs within a high-stakes context, there is pressure on the school and the teacher to focus on the student's performance on the aspects of the subject likely to be tested - within an overburdened curriculum, those aspects will, inevitably, be given more time. Any such concentration of resources will inevitably mean that breadth, and indeed depth, of subject coverage will be sacrificed to the relentless pressure of targets, standards, tests and league tables. The purpose of assessment as an aid to the development of learning is shunted into second place.

 

28. A state education system inevitably has the function of selecting pupils for future learning and employment roles, so that some national assessment system is unavoidable. However, ATL has long opposed Key Stage national testing arrangements as counter-productive in terms of pupils' learning, as outlined above. The adoption of a skills-defined and locally developed curriculum would produce more fundamental questions about assessment.

 

29. The broad range of skills described in paragraph 16 is not amenable to mainly paper tests; an expert assessor must observe the skill in use. Some previous skills models have been broken down into competences which are capable of tick-box assessment, encouraging a limiting pedagogy which is the opposite of ATL's intention. By definition, a locally designed curriculum is not amenable to national testing.

 

30. International evidence now clearly links high pupil achievement with systems which postpone national assessment and selection. There should be no national assessment system prior to a terminal stage. This includes any national system of teacher assessment. In order for the curriculum to have a complementary assessment system which is fit for purpose rather than one which is a narrowing driver, ATL believes that we need a fundamental re-balance in the relationship between formal external assessment and teacher assessment. We propose, as an alternative, an assessment system based on teacher formative and summative assessment which would meet current system needs and be flexible enough to support curriculum reform.

 

31. Bowing to political imperative and allied parental fears, there may still be a need for national tests in key skills, such as English, Mathematics and IT competency, and this can be offered through a bank of tests, for offer to pupils on a when-ready basis and only at the level of functional competence. In terms of meeting the needs of national monitoring of educational standards, ATL proposes a system of national cohort sampling, regular across-the-curriculum surveys of small random samples of pupils, thus reducing the overall test burden whilst increasing the relevance and breadth of learner evidence. This kind of system is used in many other countries; for example, the Scottish Survey of Achievement in Scotland, the National Assessment of Educational Progress in the United States and the National Education Monitoring Project in New Zealand.

 

32. Assessment for Learning approaches (AfL), where qualitative feedback is given to learners, rather than marks or grades, invite learners to have a much deeper understanding of their own learning and achievements, making them active in their learning and engaging them in the curriculum far more directly. This and other similar forms of internal, formative assessment work with, rather than against, the curriculum, resulting in truly personalised learning and re-motivated and re-professionalised workforce equipped to innovate within the curriculum.

 

Likely impact of the single level tests

 

33. The reality of single-levels tests in operation in pilot schools has already undermined the rhetoric surrounding their public launch as part of the Making Good Progress pilot. From a stated intention to reduce test pressure by having single-level tests as when-ready tools of pupil level endorsement, the result, in practice, has been more frequent testing with little or no lessening of pressure on pupils, teachers or schools. The continued emphasis on sub-levels and levels means a failure to engage with the AfL elements of the Progress pilot, where the emphasis is on qualitative, meaningful feedback on performance to pupils, as outlined in paragraph 32. Unlike AfL, single-level tests are likely to hamper moves towards personalised learning because the increase of external testing undermines the confidence of teachers in their own assessments of pupil progress. Very much part of the current excessive external testing regime, single-level tests will result in the same narrowing of curriculum to those areas most tested. They will continue to stifle innovation due to their part in the high-stakes standards agenda and most worryingly, they will reinforce the cynical belief in many pupils that education is about constant testing and that it is only worthwhile to learn that which is tested, killing curiosity and enjoyment in learning.

 

Likely impact of the Rose primary curriculum review

 

34. ATL welcomes a review of curriculum which explores ways to add flexibility to the current system. However, based on member evidence and academic research, ATL is clear that the assessment system has an undeniable impact on the curriculum as taught in our schools. The remit of the Rose primary curriculum review, does not include the assessment system, which we fear will make its findings insecure and ineffective. We note that the Rose Review is also under pressure to ensure certain ministerial priorities (such as foreign language teaching) are included, limiting the breadth of the review. We question the timing of this review and the seeming lack of government engagement with the recent research reports for the Cambridge Primary Review led by Robin Alexander, which has consulted widely and with a broader remit.

 

Implications of personalised learning, including the flexibility introduced by the new secondary curriculum (from September 2008)

 

35. The flexibility introduced in the secondary curriculum, particularly at Key Stage 3, is certainly welcome and a tribute to the recent curriculum development work carried out by the QCA. However, the emphasis on its capacity for providing choice and diversity and to thus provide a personalised curriculum, is undermined by a homogenous assessment system within a high-stakes accountability framework.

 

36. Personalised learning is not an unproblematic term, having a strong presence in government policy without an equally strong basis in strategy. David Miliband's initial attempt at definition in 2003 described personalised learning involving "an education system where assessment, curriculum, teaching style, and out of hours provision are all designed to discover and nurture the unique talents of every single pupil" with five key processes linked to it; assessment for learning, effective teaching and learning strategies, curriculum entitlement and choice, school organisation and strong school-parent-community partnerships. The Government has moved on from these five processes to link a number of its policy interests to it; the changes at 14-19, the Making Good Progress pilots.

 

37. While the curriculum is now being made more flexible, assessment has remained inflexible, its nature unchanged by any changes to modes of assessment, including greater use of e-assessment. The high stakes nature of assessment and its restriction to short written tests in many instances has not only affected the reliability and validity of its pupil performance outcomes but also on the taught curriculum and the motivation and self-confidence of many pupils. Assessment for learning, one of the five processes mentioned by Miliband, is part of Government strategy and yet is still an add-on in reality, expected to thrive within a system which is based around levels, targets, national external tests and league tables.

 

38. ATL members are also increasingly concerned about the growing inequalities in education. We are concerned that, given the persistence of structural inequalities, the government's emphasis on the individual in the context of its 'choice and diversity' (standards) agenda in education is more likely to exacerbate rather than diminish existing inequalities. Personalised learning proposals needs to take these structural inequalities into account and understand the re-prioritisation involved if schools are to partly tackle them. We are concerned that the current language around personalised learning transfers responsibility for lack of achievement to the pupil, teacher or school when other structural-level factors may well be pivotal in that lack of academic success.

 

39. ATL members are concerned that links have not been made clearer between curriculum flexibility and the needs of diversity; as the Diversity and Citizenship Curriculum Review (2007) states, "there is insufficient clarity about the flexibility within the curriculum and how links to education for diversity can be made". The language of personalised learning does not address these issues, particularly as it seemingly emphasises the individual over the social roles of education which include secondary socialisation, community building and social cohesion and cultural and ethical education for pupils. In Britain, teachers believe that part of their job is to teach pupils to get on together, to have respect for certain moral standards, and to understand the world around them.

 

40. ATL advises the Government that schools can be enabled to have more regard for the needs of all pupils only when the powerful levers of the standards agenda and the inspection system are removed in their present forms. The instinct of teachers is to do the best for all their pupils and they must be trusted to make professional judgements. If the Government wants a more inclusive approach, it must give staff the autonomy to determine priorities. School staff must be allowed to make decisions about the curriculum, pedagogy and assessment appropriate for all their pupils to be able to approach what some will call personalised learning. Of course, this autonomy must be subject to accountabilities, but these need to be reduced and rationalised. For this to be successful, we need a workforce that has access to, and can evaluate, innovation. We need a curriculum and assessment framework capable of meeting the needs of all, with the flexibility for local improvisation.

 

The National Curriculum and 14-19 Diplomas

 

41. The intended flexibility of the 14-19 Diplomas is one which ATL supports and we hope that the Diplomas will become a success story for learners, schools, colleges and other stakeholders. As supporters of the original Tomlinson proposals, we welcome the intended review of A-Levels in 2013, although the delay is driven more by political considerations than educational imperatives. However, our members have many concerns about the operation of the new Diplomas which include the following: lack of sufficient training and preparation for the school and college workforces; the speed with which the Diplomas have been developed and the lack of time given for proper piloting; the difficulty of securing access to the Diplomas for many; the complexity of the aggregation system. While the Diplomas offer new educational routes, they do not offer freedom from central prescription and are therefore only offering flexibility in terms of offering new pathways to learners, rather than flexibility to local need or to innovate.

 

Role of the new style QCA in relation to the National Curriculum

 

42. ATL welcomes the continuance of the non-regulatory role of the QCA within the proposed development agency. Its work and research on curriculum and assessment is of high standard and innovative. However, its role "to support Ministers' objectives for education and skills"13 is restrictive. It raises the issue of whether there is to be policy steerage from the centre, or from demand-led initiatives. If the former, its ability to promote innovation will be severely circumscribed, subject to short-term political agendas rather than longer-term educational need. The separation of QCA into regulatory body and development agency may facilitate the re-balancing of the currently unbalanced relationship between curriculum and assessment with the former leading the latter, but this remains unproven with little evidence at present that this will be the case.

 

The role of teachers in the future development of the National Curriculum

 

43. ATL regards teaching as essentially intellectual as well as practical and we believe that teachers ought to be equipped and empowered to lead a continuing debate within their schools about curriculum, pedagogy and assessment. The current balance between professional autonomy and prescription by government and managers is inappropriate; teaching has to be a learning and innovating profession with a real entitlement to continuing development. ATL asserts that the collective intellectual power of the teaching force should be recognised as a major national asset and be utilised to create a more vibrant education system.

 

44. Persistence of the current model of teachers as technicians, implementing the decisions of others, would lead to the progressive reduction of the national stock of knowledge about curriculum theory. ATL accepts that the implementation of a locally designed curriculum based on skills would require a very substantial programme of teacher education and development, but this would be welcomed by the profession if appropriately explained and provided.

 

45. ATL remains committed to finding further solutions to the issues surrounding teachers' workload, but recognizes that this is not a simple case of counting hours. Teachers are concerned about control of workload, whether a task is imposed or self-generated. The workload issue would be transformed by teacher ownership of the curriculum. A local curriculum would have no national assessment and no reporting except for the terminal system described in paragraph 30; this alone would remove time-consuming tasks.

 

46. We have already pointed out the close relationship between curriculum and assessment and ATL's vision of a new curriculum necessitates a reform of the assessment system, which puts teachers at its heart. We believe that teacher assessment must be seen as a central part of teaching, not an add-on, with moderation becoming a vital part of teachers' continuing professional development. We have identified the key areas of professional development support required for teachers:

development, understanding and application of assessment criteria,

the development of assessment/test models,

moderation,

various assessment approaches and tools, particularly Assessment for Learning.

 

 

Conclusion: Recommendations for Action

 

 

47. ATL's curriculum vision is one where the taught curriculum is flexible, responsive to local and pupil needs and which delivers the skills outlined in a light-touch national framework, skills which will prepare children and young people for their present and future, in employment, caring roles and as citizens. This curriculum vision is only possible if teachers are given the time, space, autonomy and confidence to use their expertise to innovate and to be creative, with appropriate systems of accountability. The current assessment and accountability systems are excessive and punitive, narrowing an already over-full curriculum. ATL is clear that the curriculum, which must change, can only do so if those elements which currently have a negative impact on its implementation are also changed.

 

 

48. ATL therefore recommends the following:

Open up the debate around curriculum. Review the current curriculum, from Early Years Foundation Stage upwards, with a wide remit which includes the impact of the current assessment system on curriculum coverage and on teaching and learning. As part of this review, the government should:

o Investigate the re-framing of the National Curriculum. ATL proposes that it should be re-framed in terms of skills in a light national framework.

o Review the centralisation of curriculum design and development, exploring options around the localisation of such activity.

o Consider how the 'whole' child, as a moral, social, physical and intellectual being, can be served by the National Curriculum and the permeation of the Every Child Matters agenda in all aspects.

o Re-consider the current dichotomy between academic and vocational skills, which is unhelpful and limiting.

To cost, trial and evaluate any proposed change properly, before implementation. This must include impact on teaching and learning, on pupils and on the professionalism of teachers.

Develop Assessment for Learning pilots in schools exempt from national testing during the pilot period

Prioritise professional development for teachers in curriculum design and assessment.

End the use of national testing as market information and accountability mechanisms and to explore options of cohort sampling to meet national monitoring needs

Abolish school performance league tables

Postpone national testing until a terminal stage.

 


Submission References

 

1. ATL, 2006. Online survey of teacher opinion, September 2006

2. Hirst, P. 1974 Knowledge and the Curriculum, Oxford: Routledge and Kegan. Hirst quoted by Newby, M, 2005 in A Learners Curriculum: towards a curriculum for the 21st Century, ATL

3. Enquiring Minds Project. Enquiring Minds: Context and Rationale. Available online from: http://www.enquiring minds.org.uk/download/pdfs/Enquiring_Minds_context_paper.pdf

4. ATL. 2004. It's like mixing colours: how young people view their learning within the context of the Key Stage 3 National Strategy. London. ATL

5. Wyse, D., McCreery, E. and Torrance, H. (2008) The Trajectory and Impact of National Reform: curriculum and assessment in English primary education (Primary Review Research Survey 3/2), Cambridge: University of Cambridge, Faculty of Education.

6. Ibid

7. Ibid.

8. Webb, R and Vulliamy, G (2006) Coming full circle: The impact of New Labour's education policies on primary school teachers' work, Association of Teachers and Lecturers

9. Ofsted (2005) Primary National Strategy: An evaluation of its impact in primary schools 2004/05

10. Pollard, A, Triggs, P, Broadfoot, P, McNess, E, and Osborne, M. (2000) What pupils say: changing policy and practice in primary education, London, Continuum

11. Assessment Reform Group (2006) The role of teachers in the assessment of learning London

12. Wiliam, D (2001) Level best? Levels of attainment in National Curriculum Assessment Association of Teachers and Lecturers, London

13. DCSF, DIUS (Dec 2007) Confidence in Standards: Regulating and developing qualifications and assessment.

Also

ATL, Johnson et al (2007) Subject to Change: New Thinking on the Curriculum, London

ATL, 2006, Subject to Change: New Thinking on the Curriculum, position statement

ATL, 2008, Assessing to Learn: Teachers at the heart of assessment, position statement

ATL, 2007, New Accountability for Schools, position statement

ATL, 2006, Personalisation position statement

ATL, 2005, New Professionalism position statement

 

 

March 2008