‘The framework for the national curriculum’ document made for some interesting reading. At this stage the document outlines key principles and emerging ideas, but is keen to make clear that it is inviting further dialogue and engagement. It is quite long, so here are some key points that struck me at this early stage:
1. It voices concerns about instrumentalism and is keen that the new curriculum does not encourage schools to be purely driven by short term attainment. In addition, it makes reference to encouraging life-long learners as a key aim.
2. It stresses the crucial importance of developing oracy and communication skills as a vital step in cognitive, intellectual and social development.
3.It encourages schools to be creative and innovative in developing aspects of their curriculum that could reflect a school’s context, values and specialisms.
4. It is clear in its espousal of the arts as crucial to learning in all disciplines and encourages them being a statutory entitlement at KS4.
5. It supports the notion of ‘enrichment’ - forms of learning that might not necessarily be formally assessed
6. It suggests that the use of ICT be a cross-curricular entitlement rather than a discrete subject.
7. That level descriptors, and they way that they are sometimes used, might undermine learning.
Assessment, Reporting, and Pupil Progression
We have concerns about the ways in which level descriptors are currently used to judge pupil progress. Indeed, we believe that this may actually inhibit the overall performance of our system and undermine learning. For this reason, we suggest a new approach to judging progression that we believe to be, in principle, more educationally sound. We are aware that this has significant implications for assessment and accountability.
Oral Language and its Development within the National Curriculum
There is a compelling body of evidence that highlights a connection between oral development, cognitive development and educational attainment. We are strongly of the view that the development of oral language should be a particular feature of the new National Curriculum.
There are a number of possible ways of achieving this, which we explore in Chapter 9. We believe that a multi-layered approach is required for this extremely important area of curriculum provision. This should include using overarching National Curriculum statements, retaining discrete and focused elements within the Programme of Study for English, and introducing statements about oral language and its development into each Programme of Study for all core and foundation subjects.
Chapter 1 Knowledge, Development and the Curriculum
There are also many who foreground the development of skills, competencies and dispositions whilst asserting that contemporary knowledge changes so fast that ‘learning how to learn’ should be prioritised.19 We do not believe that these are either/or questions. Indeed, it is impossible to conceptualise ‘learning to learn’ independently of learning ‘something’.20 Our position is therefore that both elements – knowledge and development – are essential and that policy instruments need to be deployed carefully to ensure that these are provided for within education.
Chapter 3 The Structure of the School Curriculum (for primary and secondary)
3.21 The local curriculum should also provide opportunities for schools to innovate and to develop particular curricular interests or specialisms insofar as they decide they are appropriate.48 For example, a specific focus might be developed for a school’s provision or for a phase of learning, either as separate elements e.g. ‘philosophy for children’49 or integrated across the school curriculum, such as ‘thinking skills’.50 Schools may also wish to make explicit provision for the development of commitment to lifelong learning.51
3.22 The local curriculum should therefore complement the specificity of the mandatory National and Basic Curricula, giving opportunities for teachers, schools and communities to make autonomous decisions. This is intended to leave substantial scope for school leaders and classroom teachers to exercise professional judgement and creativity in deciding how to contextualise, extend, deepen and embed the curriculum and learning experience.52
3.23 The school curriculum will continue to comprise the National, Basic and local curricula. As a whole, the school curriculum should demonstrably fulfil the statutory requirement of the 2002 Education Act for a balanced and broadly-based school curriculum that promotes the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development of pupils. Under the proposed new inspection arrangements this will be reviewed by Ofsted,53 and we propose that it should also be reported annually to parents in addition to performance information. Schools will be responsible for the overall quality of the curriculum as experienced by pupils.
4.8 Despite their importance in balanced educational provision, we are not entirely persuaded of claims that design and technology, information and communication technology and citizenship have sufficient disciplinary coherence57 to be stated as discrete and separate National Curriculum ‘subjects’. We recommend that:
Design and technology is reclassified as part of the Basic Curriculum. We recommend that design and technology programmes should be developed by schools in response to local needs and interests, which is why we take the view that a reclassification to the Basic Curriculum is desirable.
Information and communication technology is reclassified as part of the Basic Curriculum and requirements should be established so that it permeates all National Curriculum subjects. We have also noted the arguments, made by some respondents to the Call for Evidence,58 that there should be more widespread teaching of computer science in secondary schools. We recommend that this proposition is properly considered.
Citizenship is of enormous importance in a contemporary and future-oriented education. However, we are not persuaded that study of the issues and topics included in citizenship education constitutes a distinct ‘subject’ as such. We therefore recommend that it be reclassified as part of the Basic Curriculum.
4.21 In addition, we are concerned that an instrumental attitude, which values test and examination results and certificates as ends in themselves, has become increasingly evident in the English system. This diminishes the priority that should be given to ensuring that the underlying learning being accredited is deep and secure. In order to mitigate this narrow instrumentalism in learning, urgent attention will need to be given to relevant control factors, particularly assessment systems and accountability measures affecting all schools.66 If assessment and accountability systems are to be valid, they need to represent all valued learning outcomes not just a narrow subset of them. In this context, the role of Ofsted and school governors in ensuring that a school’s curriculum is broad, balanced and fit for purpose will be crucial.
Art and music – the arts
4.22 It may be worth explaining specifically why we believe ‘the arts’ should be made compulsory at Key Stage 4. Bearing in mind the influence that the EBacc is having on the provision of academic courses in Key Stage 4 for a larger proportion of pupils, we are concerned, as in primary education, that the role of art and music in a broad, balanced and effective education should not be lost. As Annex 3 shows, of the 14 jurisdictions compared, only four, including England, cease compulsory provision of art and music by the age of 14. Massachusetts (US) and Ontario (Canada) continue compulsory art and music till 18.
4.23 Apart from the intrinsic worth of including art and music in the statutory curriculum from 5 to 16 because of the importance of pupils acquiring knowledge of their cultural heritage(s), there is now substantial evidence that a good art and music education benefits individuals, their communities and the nation as a whole in other ways. For example, a recent report from the US President’s Committee on arts and humanities67 provides evidence of benefits to pupil engagement, cognitive development and achievement, including in mathematics and reading. Similar findings have been reported recently in Australia68 and in a systematic review of research carried out in the UK.69 In addition to these educational outcomes for pupils, consideration needs to be given to the importance of creative subjects to the economic health of the nation.70
4.24 In other words, the arts subjects in the curriculum have the potential to meet aims and purposes in all of the domains mentioned in Chapter 2 (i.e. economic, cultural, social and personal). We therefore recommend that education in art and music should be supported in Key Stage 4 through statutory requirement (separately or in combination), i.e. as part of the Basic Curriculum, as broad responsibilities; content should be determined by the school.
9.10 There are a number of possible ways of making such provision.
In overarching National Curriculum statements:
The most obvious strategy is simply to include a high level, overarching statement that clearly promotes the significance of oral communication across the whole National Curriculum. This could be achieved through a statement of curriculum aims. However, we do not think such an approach would be effective, in isolation, unless it were reinforced across and within the other instruments of the National Curriculum.
Within the English Programme of Study:
An overarching statement could be introduced covering the whole English Programme of Study. Discrete ‘speaking’ and ‘listening’ strands could be retained (as in the 2007 and 1999 National Curriculum documents), or such provision could be reorganised into new combinations of ‘speaking and writing’ and ‘reading and listening’. Such provision must draw on well-evidenced content elements and progression in oral development.
Within the Programmes of Study for all core and foundation subjects:
A statement could be introduced about provision for oral language development within each subject. Examples of application could be incorporated into each Programme of Study, focused on appropriate subject-specific elements of each subject