National Curriculum - Children, Schools and Families Committee Contents

5  Empowering teachers

Central control and teacher professionalism

87. As well as undermining local ownership of the curriculum and pedagogy the National Curriculum and National Strategies are also perceived to have contributed to the de-skilling of teachers. When questioned on teacher skills in relation to the curriculum the Minister presented the National Strategies guidance as a tool for teachers who were unsure of what to do, in this instance, with the space created by the discontinuation of Key Stage 3 tests:

    Having moved on from the Key Stage 3 test in English and maths, some people have said, "What shall we do instead?" which is why we have [the National Strategies] offering those people helpful advice to empower them to do better.[70]

88. In suggesting that the National Strategies guidance gave teachers confidence,[71] the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools and Learners, Sarah McCarthy-Fry MP, did not acknowledge the problem that, while this might be so in the short-term, in the longer-term it could contribute to the de-skilling of the teaching profession. Nor did the Ministers recognise that reliance on immediate 'pedagogical fixes' undermines teachers' engagement with more fundamental issues of curriculum design and the purposes of education.[72] As the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) observes:

    There has been a danger that the guidance documents and resources for the National Strategies have been seen as the way to deliver the curriculum and, where teachers have lacked confidence or experience, there has been a tendency to view these as "teaching by numbers", leading to a generation of teachers who are curriculum deliverers rather than curriculum developers. This leads to a detachment from the process and a move towards "de-professionalisation".[73]

89. We urge the Department to cease presenting the National Strategies guidance as a prop for the teaching profession and to adopt a more positive understanding of how schools and teachers might be empowered in relation to the National Curriculum.

Supporting teachers as researchers and reflective practitioners

90. A range of evidence to our inquiry called on the Department to fund further research on the curriculum and pedagogy and to disseminate the findings of that research to teachers in the spirit of informing local professional decision-making. Such an approach would mean that the recent Independent Review of the Teaching of Early Reading report (the supporting document for Letters and Sounds), for example, would be principally to inform teachers, with a summary sent to each of them, rather than to inform the Department.[74]

91. We recommend that the Department diverts resources away from the production of guidance to the funding and dissemination of research findings to teachers in the spirit of informing local professional decision-making.

92. At the same time, teachers need to be given a stronger sense that their own innovations in pedagogy can be valued. There is considerable support for the introduction of some form of 'pedagogic bank' developed by teachers for teachers.[75] The QCA is already developing a similar resource for schools in relation to the Diploma:

    […] with the Learning and Skills Improvement Service […] we are currently building a site where we can gather, collect, push back and begin to look at evidence about the kind of practice that is emerging. […] there are 4,000 practitioners engaged on that site although it is not yet live. We are in the process of building that kind of infrastructure. That does not deal directly with the curriculum, but there are possibilities for it to do so at some point in the future […].[76]

The National Strategies team is also developing a 'what works' website:

    The 1998 [National] Strategy did a job that needed doing at the time. […] a lot of people were teaching lots of subjects in the National Curriculum fairly superficially and not getting the progress. We are now able to […] engage teachers more in working with and developing the pedagogy in their classrooms. […][77]

    We have a fairly new website called "What works well", where teachers are taking risks and sharing what they are doing and the difference that that is making for their children.[78]

These developments are to be welcomed in encouraging local interpretations of centrally-produced frameworks and guidance, so long as these agencies restrict their role to one of moderator rather than controller.[79]

93. We recommend that the Department and the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority develop facilities to disseminate research about teaching and support teachers in sharing effective practice.

Supporting local ownership of the National Curriculum

Teacher training and the curriculum

94. The process of improving teacher skills will mean ensuring that curriculum-related matters are covered sufficiently in Initial Teacher Training (ITT) provision. Such provision could be expected to support immediate improvement in teacher confidence. It could also have longer-term benefits in building the national stock of knowledge about curriculum design:

95. ITT provision is shaped by the standards for Qualified Teacher Status (QTS), which it must enable trainee teachers to meet. The most recent version of the QTS standards was introduced in 2007. There are 33 standards, of which the following relate most directly to curriculum matters:

14) Have a secure knowledge and understanding of their subjects/curriculum areas and related pedagogy to enable them to teach effectively across the age and ability range for which they are trained.

15) Know and understand the relevant statutory and non-statutory curricula and frameworks, including those provided through the National Strategies, for their subjects/curriculum areas, and other relevant initiatives applicable to the age and ability range for which they are trained.

22) Plan for progression across the age and ability range for which they are trained, designing effective learning sequences within lessons and across series of lessons and demonstrating secure subject/curriculum knowledge.[81]

96. While teacher training does not end with ITT, Standard 15, with its emphasis on trainee teachers' knowing the requirements of National Strategies guidance, appears particularly inadequate for the purpose of developing trainee teachers' understanding of curriculum design and their confidence to take ownership of central curriculum frameworks and guidance, let alone design their own curriculum independently.

97. We recommend that both the theory and practice of curriculum design is given a much higher profile within the standards for Qualified Teacher Status.

98. In this respect we recognise that the implications of reducing the size of the National Curriculum have the potential to result in a bloated curriculum for ITT. We will look more closely at the appropriateness of the current QTS standards as a whole as part of our forthcoming inquiry into teacher training.


99. Teachers will also need support in developing and refining their practice and in identifying effective practice conducted in other schools. As the Geographical Association commented:

100. The support of locally-developed practice will require the Department and its relevant agencies to take on a very different role—one of intelligence gathering and research and development as well as monitoring compliance. Professor David Hargreaves observed:

    The centre, since the Education Reform Act 1988, has prescribed very substantially what schools should do and then has monitored whether there is compliance, through either Ofsted or tests. When we move to a period of less prescription from the centre and more innovation from the front line, which I think is the step we are now at, it means the centre has to do more than simply monitor; it has to look for intelligence. We need an intelligence system that says, "Where is the most interesting innovation occurring, and how can the centre assist to apply rigour and identify it as good? [...]".[83]

Efforts to gather and disseminate intelligence on effective practice in delivering the National Curriculum will also need to assist Ofsted in its ability to assess more innovative approaches to curriculum delivery, such as project-based learning.[84]

101. We expect the Department to set out how its role and that of its relevant agencies will change in relation to the National Curriculum over the next five to ten years in order to support the move to a much less prescriptive curriculum and less centrally-directed approach to its delivery.

70   Q 615. See also Q 579 Back

71   Q 591 Back

72   Ev 257, paragraph 3; Ev 258, paragraph 7; Ev 289, paragraph 7.1 Back

73   Ev 52, paragraph 15 Back

74   Ev 257, paragraph 15 Back

75   Ev 73, paragraph 116 Back

76   Q 487  Back

77   Q 279 Back

78   Q 278 [Peter Dudley] Back

79   Qq 487-488 Back

80   Q 124 [Martin Johnson]  Back

81   The QTS standards can be viewed at Back

82   Ev 258, paragraph 6 Back

83   Q 483 Back

84   Q 482 [Professor Hargreaves] Back

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