Saturday, 13 April 2013

National Curriculum Consultation

I've finally finished my response to the National Curriculum.  It took quite a while but I'm glad I've got it done.

I think that it is really important that teachers, and others with an interest in Education, respond to the consultation.  I know that the subject bodies and others (such as the Institute of Physics, Royal Society of Chemistry, SCORE, ASCL, DATA etc) will submit their own, probably more detailed versions.  However, I think that it is good for Mr Gove to know that 'real' teachers (as opposed to the Blob) are paying attention.

I also think that it is more important to respond to the official consultation than to sign any amount of petitions / letters etc.  These may have a feelgood factor that the official consultation doesn't have, but they don't necessarily show that people have thought deeply about the issues (though they no doubt have).

If you are interested in what I have answered, I've included my answers below.  In responding to the consultation I tried to read what others were responding - especially in subjects other than science.  In at least one case I have borrowed heavily copied a response because I thought it was very good.  However, I did reference my source!

Subject Associations etc:
ASCL statement
DATA response (pdf)
PSHE Association

I am particular grateful to Helen Rogerson for her sterling work comparing the old and new curricula.  It made getting my head round how things were changing much easier.
Her blogpost and thoughts are here.
Ben Preston has also shared his thoughts, and you can find them here.

Here, if you are interested, are some of my answers.
Q1. Do you have any comments on the proposed aims for the NC as a whole set out in the framework document?

The aims are currently broad and somewhat nebulous, and would benefit from greater clarity.  The aims as currently written are more of a description of what children will be able to do, not what their education should aspire to.  Michael Reiss, from the Institute of Education, has co-authored a book in which he addresses the aims of a curriculum, and I suggest that the department would do well to consult further with Prof. Reiss on how to develop the aims of the National curriculum further.
However, I think that it is helpful that the NC provides an outline of core knowledge for teachers to use to develop “exciting and stimulating lessons”.  As you state in section 1.17 “…we are aiming to give teachers more space and flexibility to design their lessons by focusing only on the essential knowledge to be taught in each subject”. This is an admirable aim. However, I think that the Programmes of Study that follow this statement (especially for primary subjects) contain far too much content to realistically allow this to happen in schools.  The specified content should be reduced to allow for personalisation of the curriculum in each school, and to provide teachers with the autonomy in the development of their teaching that has been promised.

I would also like to see reference to skills and processes that children are introduced to through the subject content.  These are mentioned in the Attainment targets (know, apply and understand the matters, skills and processes), and so their lack in the aims of the curriculum is surprising.  The emphasis on knowledge could, in some subjects (especially science) lead to a reduction in the development and use of practical work which would be a great pity.

I think that it is good that your aim is to embed numeracy and literacy throughout the curriculum, and that sometimes this is not realised in the proposed programmes of study.  Also, it would be good if science, as one of the three subjects which you are focussing on, could also be embedded in English and Maths with scientific texts to read, or topics to discuss, or maths as applied in a scientific context.

Q2 Do you agree that instead of detailed subject-level aims we should free teachers to shape their own curriculum aims based on the content in the programmes of study?

The aims of the subjects should be elucidated before decided on the content of the programme.  To ask teachers in individual schools to make up their own aims from the content which has already been decided is not a particularly helpful thing to do. As this is a National curriculum, then one must assume that the subject aims should be nationally coherent as well as coherent with the aims of the curriculum as a whole.  This is unlikely to be the case if all teachers are creating their own curriculum aims.
With reference to the aims for science specifically.
Given the interdisciplinary nature of science nowadays, I think that it would be better if the aims were reworded to reflect the growth in interdisciplinary studies such as biochemistry, medical physics and cognitive psychology. Also, the splitting of science into Chemistry, Physics and Biology does not reflect how science is taught in many schools where most students, from year 1 up to year 8 or 9, will be taught Science. 

Q3 Do you have any comments on the content set out in the draft programmes of study?
There is a great disparity in the content, layout and level of detail across the different draft programmes of study.
I am aware of the perceived importance of English, Science and Maths and hence can understand why programmes of study have been provided in such detail at KS1 and KS2.  However, I think that the level of detail should be reduced to allow schools to develop their curriculum more freely. 
In the primary curriculum I dislike the year by year format.  I think that this will be too restrictive, and although the additional information does suggest that teachers do not have to stick to this timeplan, it is likely that it will become the de facto order (in a similar way to the QCA schemes of work).  I think it would be better to stipulate content for KS1 and KS2 each as a whole.   
Whilst the aims of the History curriculum are good, the vast scope of history that you are expecting students to cover in 3 or 4 years is too large.  It would be better to suggest possible eras to cover, rather than ALL of them.  I agree that having more of an understanding of the chronology of history would be a good thing and should underpin students’ study of history, but there needs to be more flexibility in exactly what specific episodes of history are taught.  I also think that in an increasingly multicultural society, and in a world in which it is imperative that young people are able to work cooperatively with other nationalities, there is too much focus on the British Isles.  This is a missed opportunity and should be rectified to allow world histories (that aren’t white british) to be studied where appropriate.
I am unsure about the wisdom of making the study of a language at KS2 compulsory.  I feel that it could be difficult to find appropriately qualified staff, and would provide difficulties in continuity when students move from Primary to secondary schools.  However, I think that it should be highlighted as a suitable optional subject in primary to enrich the curriculum in schools where this is appropriate. However, I quite like the idea of latin or ancient greek being available, and think that the government should fund the development of suitable primary curriculum materials to support the introduction of these languages if a school wishes for it.

Physical Education
The introduction of a variety of different sports and activities (many of which are not necessarily competitive) has benefited students who are not interested in competitive sports.  Activities such as trampolining, karate, gym, fencing and dance (of various kinds) allow students to enjoy a healthy activity without needing to compete.  I think that it is a shame that it feels like there is such an overt focus on competitive sports in the draft programme of study.

Design and technology
Given the current complexity of electrical and mechanical systems I think that the following statements are unrealistic:
  •   electricals and electronics: to carry out common diagnostic, maintenance and repair tasks on electrical and electronic appliances, and plan, design, make and evaluate simple electrical or electronic devices
  • mechanics: to undertake common diagnostic and maintenance tasks on mechanical objects such as bicycles and motor vehicles.
Many electrical and electronic appliances manufacturers discourage owners from repairing these objects.  In fact, even changing/wiring a plug is generally not easily done with devices sold with moulded plugs already attached.  Likewise, the maintance tasks would be limited to filling screenwash, pumping up/changing tyres or possibly changing the oil on many motor vehicles.  I am unsure of the value of this in the curriculum.

The D&T programme of study contains terms such as ‘common’, ‘simple’, ‘straightforward’.  This does not feel like an aspirational PoS which will introduce students to the ‘best that has been thought and said’.  A number of schools have been investing in 3D printers (with government funding), and there appears to be little place for these in the draft PoS.  I am also unsure of the value of including ‘horticulture’ here, as it includes neither design nor (in any great extent within the school context) technology.  Whilst I feel that it is important that students are aware of where their food comes from a better place for this would be within the science programme of study. 

In science the different programmes of study do not feel like a coherent whole.  They appear to have been developed in isolation and don’t necessarily allow for progression of ideas through the years.  There is also overlap in some topics at KS3 with e.g. matter being in both Chemistry and Physics covering the same knowledge. This needs to be rationalised into one place, or ensure that the topic is not repeated.

There appears to have been a movement of some topics down key stages and this is not helpful.  The reduction in Earth Science and astronomy is a shame – although making decisions about what to leave out is difficult.

There is a lack of coherence between the mathematical requirements and the science requirements so that the development of maths skills will not support those of the science programme.  The writer of the ‘Working Scientifically’ section should also make reference to the ASE publication ‘The language of measurement’, where they would find that ‘reliability’ is not a term recommended for use in school science. Nor is it endorsed by the awarding organisations, all of whom refer schools to the aforementioned ASE document.

I think that including notable stories about scientists and inventors is an admirable aim.  However, by concentrating on historical, mainly white, mainly male figures, you may confirm in students’ minds that science is not for them.  It also misses the opportunity to make use of the good work of STEM ambassadors, and the Research Councils.  It would be fabulous if these, and other, bodies were able to support teachers to make links with current scientists who are ‘developing useful new materials’, scientists involved with ‘classification’, ‘palaeontologists’, ‘naturalists and animal behaviourists’, scientists who have helped develop the ideas of the solar system and so on.  In each case there are scientists, engineers or designers in UK universities and companies who could be used as case studies (and aspirational careers examples) for young people.

KS1 does not include much ‘physics’ e.g. no electricity or magnets and even more limited chemistry.  This narrower range could potentially impact on the amount of science children do at KS1, compared to that done currently, and has raised concerns over their preparation for KS2.

In the year 2 notes and guidance it says ‘spoons can be made from plastic, wood, metal, but not glass’. However, I would recommend the writer types ‘glass punch spoon’ into their search engine of choice where they will find numerous examples of glass spoons.
Chemistry appears to be limited to identifying materials a lot in KS1 and KS2 and needs to be looked at to ensure that the balance is better.  What children are expected to be taught – particularly about the properties and uses of materials – differs little in each of the years.

The layout and structure of the Chemistry topics at KS3 are very different from those of Physics and Biology and I think that there should be more uniformity where possible.
I am unclear what ‘the chemical properties of metals and non-metals and metal and non-metal oxides with respect to acidity’ means, and this should be clarified for non-specialists.

The teaching of refraction at KS2 (notes and guidance) is not suitable at this age.
The section on Energy is very different from previous energy discussions.  I think that the writer of the draft PoS should make more use of the discussion of energy found in the Institute of Physics Supporting Physics Teaching 11-14 materials, as well as the recent paper from Professor Robin Millar ‘Towards a research informed sequence for teaching energy’ , 2012.  The concept of ‘auditing change’ by calculation would be better in KS4 when the students would meet and carry out appropriate calculations. The introduction of kW before students have studied power is unhelpful.  It would be better to start out by considering fuels (possibly through energy values in food leading to fossil fuels etc).  Also, as an examiner, I feel that it would be difficult to develop a wide variety of assessment items that would successfully test an understanding of some of the examples of processes that cause change at KS3.

Magnets year 3 – in notes ‘Note: Pupils do not need to be introduced to ‘like’ and ‘unlike’ magnetic poles until Year 5’. However, this is probably a helpful discussion to explain why magnets can both attract and repel each other so this note is not appropriate.

Year 5 Earth and Space – The notes in the guidance about the solar system does not appear to relate to the PoS and would be better in KS3. Also, I think that it is beyond  students (and teachers) to work out how places such as Stonehenge are used as astronomical clocks.  This seems quite a large ask – especially as the exact use of such places is still debated amongst archaeologists.

Year 3 Light – It is unlikely that many schools will have the facilities to take a class of 30 children safely into a completely blacked out room.

Year 3 Rocks – This topic appears from nowhere, and appear to go nowhere in the rest of the NC.  There should be a more coherent Earth story throughout KS1-3.  In the notes and guidance the use of hand lens to look at whether rocks contain grains or crystals which is probably too difficult at this level.  It would be better to limit KS1 to looking at different types of rock, investigating rocks (and other building materials) in their locality.  Any in depth treatment should probably be limited to sedimentary rock at KS2 (linked with evolution and fossils perhaps), with igneous and metamorphic treated properly at KS3. 
Year 4  States of Matter.
There is a contradiction in the guidance in that teachers are told to avoid changes of state associated with baking or burning, but then suggested to look at making biscuits (which would potentially involve baking).
The water cycle appears anomalous here and is a difficult topic to include.  It would be better to relate evaporation and condensation to weather patterns, rain, snow, ice etc without referring to the water cycle.

KS3 Waves – the concept of superposition is a difficult one and would be better in KS4. Would also be good to see a reference to other models of waves for transverse waves (such as the jelly baby wave machine), or remove specific reference to a slinky.  Echoes and reflection of sound should be included. 
At KS3 it would perhaps be better to refer just to ‘light’ rather than ‘light waves’ as electromagnetic radiation can obviously be both a wave and a particle.

Year 4 Electricity. The notes contain the sentence ‘some materials can and some cannot be used to connect across a gap in a circuit.’  However, all materials could be used to connect across a gap in a circuit; it’s just that some will be conductive and others not. The sentence needs rewording to clarify the meaning.

KS3 Static electricity.  This would be better in KS4 I think, especially as students do not appear to have been introduced to electrons in the Chemistry section at KS3.

KS3 Forces and motion
The phrase ‘torque and rotational effects’ is very wide, and I think that explaining rotational effects is too difficult at KS3 (or even KS4). Rotational dynamics is a difficult topic best covered beyond A-level.
It would be good to include the concepts of force arrows, drawing forces on a diagram, adding forces in one direction, net forces and balanced forces at KS3

I support the Sex Education Forum’s response to the National Curriculum consultation setting out that the revised National Curriculum must ensure that all children and young people are entitled to a comprehensive and developmental programme of sex education through science.
I recommend that: The science curriculum adopts clear, open language and a positive tone for content relating to human reproduction, growth and sexual health. This is essential to make it clear to teachers, parents and pupils what will be taught. This means that:
  • the term puberty should be used in primary science and the retrogressive note stating 'they should not be expected to understand how reproduction occurs' should be removed;
  • at KS3 the current content on sexual health and disease, contraception, and adolescence should be retained, and learning about hormones should be included.
Because the only statutory requirement for primary school sex education is within National Curriculum science, it is essential for safeguarding and well-being that the programme of study makes clear that:
  • children can name external genitalia at Key stage 1;
  • and learn about puberty before it happens i.e. introducing the idea at Lower KS 2.
As there is no other requirement for primary SRE, science should reflect the current Sex and Relationship Education Guidance (DfEE 2000), which recommends that SRE:
  • ‘should ensure that both boys and girls know about puberty and how a baby is born.’
    On harmful substances:

    I also think that the Government should include specific references to the safe and responsible use of chemicals, including medicines found in the home and specific references to the effects of alcohol, tobacco and volatile substances on the body's systems in Key Stage 1 and 2.  There should be specific references to tobacco, volitile substances and alcohol at Key Stage 3 as promoted by leading drug education charity Mentor.

Q4 Does the content set out in the draft programmes of study represent a sufficiently ambitious level of challenge for pupils at each key stage?

Given the differences in the level of specificity and detail in the different programmes of study this question is impossible to answer as a whole. 

In some subjects (especially in primary e.g. History, Maths and English) the level of challenge is extremely high, but in others (particularly D&T or Citizenship) it is vague and does not appear to be an improvement on the current curriculum.

Also, the level of challenge will depend to an extent on the external assessment, and these are not available as yet.

There are some instances where the level of challenge is less than in the current curriculum, especially at KS1, and some where the content is too challenging as the children will not have done precursory work.
In a few areas the KS2 content is more challenging than KS3, for example the younger pupils are asked to tackle gravity, space motion, and evolution. There is a jump in the language used from KS2 to KS3 e.g. the use of terms, such as "fair test" in the primary content, jumping to the term ‘experiment’ and specific knowledge of variables.

There are some topics in KS3 which would be better in KS4 (see answer to previous question for examples).
Q5. Do you have any comments on the proposed wording of the attainment targets?

They should be tailored to each subject much more to allow for judgement about the achievement of students in that particular subject. 

Whilst I am happy with the removal of levels, little detail has been provided to guide teachers and school leaders about how progress will be judged using the draft NC.  This is unsettling, and should have been presented at the same time as the draft.

Q7 Do you agree that we should change the subject information and communication technology to computing, to reflect the content of the new programmes of study?

Whilst I welcome the inclusion of some computing in the curriculum, I think that the loss of ICT in some form is a shame.  The proposed computing to be included is very technical.  There needs to be a balance between an understanding of how computers work and how to program them with the use of computers in adult life (word-processing, spread sheets, web design, digital images etc).  This does not happen in the current draft curriculum, and needs to be revisited.  Also, although online safety is mentioned early in the curriculum it should be included at secondary, as students access a wider range of material and begin to be involved more heavily in social media.

There is also a strong need for CPD for teachers to help the delivery of any new computing curriculum.

Q8 Does the new National Curriculum embody an expectation of higher standards for all children?
A change in the curriculum alone will not bring about higher standards for all children. Without a coherent approach to teacher support, assessment, accountability and assessment the response to the national curriculum (assuming schools decide to implement it) will be limited.

The draft Curriculum is more content-heavy in some areas, especially in the core subjects in primary, but harder content will not necessarily lead to higher standards of achievement. It could have the opposite effect by alienating some students who are currently engaged. In a number of subjects the content appears repetitive and an increasing level of demand is not clearly expressed - this might actually drive down standards
Q11 What key factors will affect schools’ ability to implement the new National Curriculum successfully from September 2014?
I cannot see how schools will be able to implement the new NC successfully from September 2014.  Whilst I think that it is a good idea to review the whole of the curriculum together (rather than piecemeal as has been done in the past), this, coupled with the changes to assessment at GCSE and A-level all converging on the same timeframe, means that every year of the curriculum will need to be reviewed, and possibly rewritten in a timescale of less than 18 months.  An impossible undertaking.  Of course, it may well be that Academies just don’t bother and focus on the assessment changes, but that still leaves primaries and non-academies with a huge change.

Q13 Do you agree that we should amend the legislation to disapply the National Curriculum programmes of study, attainment targets and statutory assessment arrangements, as set out in section 12 of the consultation document?
Given the short timescale of the changes it is likely that the new curriculum will not be available to schools before the start of the school year in Autumn 2013 so many will continue to use their current curriculum and would not wish to change ahead of time.

However, it may be that giving schools this option would allow them to bring in some changes early and spread the huge number of changes over a slightly longer timescale.

Q 14 Do you have any other comments you would like to make about the proposals in this consultation?
I think that it would be better to implement the changes incrementally, as has happened in the past.  Bringing in the change all at once is a huge undertaking: in primary teachers will be changing ALL subjects in 7 year groups, and in secondary they will be changing subjects in 3 year groups (not forgetting the forthcoming changes to GCSEs and A-levels).