The present government in England says it wants to focus on ‘what works’ in education, backed up by solid research, especially research using randomised controlled trial (RCT) designs. Yet, the mismatch between Ministers’ curriculum policy for English teaching and the growing research evidence base is stark, particularly at primary level.
Especially worrying is the heavy emphasis in the curriculum and the SATs on traditional grammar teaching. My latest paper (with my colleague Carole Torgerson at Durham University) published in the British Educational Research Journal today is an analysis of what works in education. The paper includes the evidence for a much more integrated approach to the teaching of grammar and writing.
We conducted a review of systematic reviews and meta-analyses, RCTs,
and quasi-experimental trials, and concluded that the widespread use of traditional (more…)
The IOE blog has asked colleagues from across the Institute what’s at the top of their wish list. We are publishing their replies during the run-up to the election.
The new government should take a new approach to primary education that sees this stage as a unique time in children’s lives. This will require them to look again at the purposes of primary education.
The current statutory assessment system is not fit for assessing children’s learning and needs radical change. The government should:
- Move to national sampling.
- Abolish the current SPAG test and phonics screening test and replace with more appropriate measures.
When it comes to the National Curriculum, the government should: (more…)
If you agree that the Primary National Curriculum for English is too complex and over-loaded with detail, try a little experiment. See what happens when you take the 2014 Music Curriculum and adapt it appropriately.
My team and I have been researching the development of children’s creativity, and I think this could represent a new vision for English in the curriculum of the future:
One of the highest forms of creativity
Increase [pupils’] self-confidence, creativity and sense of achievement
To create and compose writing on their own and with others
To understand and explore how writing is created
KS1 programme of study (more…)
For several years, the outstanding success of London Challenge has been a beacon for school improvers across the nation and beyond. The marked improvement in the performance of London secondary schools in the decade after 2002 has been a clear indication that school systems can be significantly improved for all young people, given commitment, imagination, investment and collaboration.
London schools significantly out-perform schools across England and the best of London’s boroughs – Camden, Tower Hamlets, Hackney – perform outstandingly well. In recent months, this narrative has been unpicked. The Institute for Fiscal Studies argued that the success of London’s secondaries was an illusion caused by earlier improvements in primary schools.
Now, in a more direct assault, Simon Burgess from the University of Bristol argues that it’s not the schools’ success of schools at all: London’s (more…)
A national curriculum is in part a representation of what a society wants for the education of its citizens. This is why many people feel that wide consultation on its content and ethos is necessary.
The proposals for England’s 2014 national curriculum, finalised and published a few days ago, were subject to a national public consultation that ran from February to April 2013. The consultation attracted more than 17,000 responses from a mixture of organisations and individuals. The table below shows my analysis of the DFE’s report on the consultation outcomes, and the Government’s response to it. In particular, for each question in the consultation I have identified the majority response to the consultation questions.
It is worthwhile for Ministers to consider the value of carrying the educational community with them on a matter of such national significance. Yet, as can be seen, the majority of those who expressed a view gave negative responses to eight out of nine questions. In my view it is reasonable to conclude that in the light of this strikingly negative response the national curriculum is not fit for purpose and should be rewritten. This view is given added force by last year’s decision by most members of the national curriculum expert group to raise strong objections to many of the proposals.
Some cynically take the view that one should not expect public consultations to result in major change to proposals, and that such consultations are emblematic rather than pragmatic. But if this is the case it invalidates what should be the main purpose: to consult the widest possible range of people, address their response, and act even-handedly on this response.
As far as the specific problems with the national curriculum proposals are concerned, many people predicted these in their responses to the consultation. Indeed my own department, the Early Years and Primary Education department at the IOE convened a team to respond fully to the consultation. For example, we argued that a national debate on aims should precede the crafting of the content and urged that the process of learning be given more prominence. We also highlighted discontinuities between the primary curriculum and the stages that precede and follow it.
Analysis of government response to consultation on the national curriculum
If public consultation on national curricula and assessment is to be genuinely meaningful then the following need to be in place:
• Analysis of consultation responses should be carried out by an organisation independent of government and the civil service, for example a research organisation.
• A transparent methodology for analysis is needed, for example to account fairly (including through statistical weighting) for the views of organisations versus individual respondents; to clearly explain the approach to analysis of qualitative answers; and more generally to be an account that would satisfy researchers of the rigor of the analysis.
• Consultation should include a question on the overall desirability of proposed changes in addition to any questions about the fine detail of proposals.
• Clear majority views should be acted on in line with the opinion expressed. A principled way to deal with less clear-cut answers should be established.
• Responses, analyses, and government actions should be available online in order to ensure public trust, and to demonstrate democracy at work.
I hope that these principles will inform the consultation on assessment that is currently in progress, because the decisions made on assessment are likely to have a profound impact on the curriculum, pedagogy and children’s lives in school.
Primary children should develop a “love of literature through widespread reading for enjoyment”, according to the Government’s proposed new English curriculum. I couldn’t agree more. An early introduction to the wonderful range of children’s books will enrich their lives forever. Children who love to read and relish a wide range of texts are more likely to succeed at school and enjoy their time there. As the Programme of Study says: “for pupils, understanding language provides access to the whole curriculum.”
But is the proposals’ encouraging use of the words love and enjoyment mere rhetoric or does it signify a rich seam weaving its way naturally throughout the Programme of Study? Unfortunately not the latter, because at every turn pleasure, love, and meaning appear to be secondary to the mechanics of phonics, spelling and grammar.
This over-emphasis on mechanics fails to reflect advances in research and scholarship over the last 25 years. For example, we know that phonics teaching is an important part of helping children learn to read. But we also know that too much phonics of the wrong kind can have a negative effect by narrowing the curriculum and by risking a lack of attention to other important parts of learning to read. The decontextualised phonics programme set out in the Programme of Study is not the only effective way to teach phonics. Research has shown that learning about the alphabetic code is effective when set in the context of whole texts (such as stories, poems, and songs: Peterborough headteacher Christine Parker and I have shown ways to do this in our new handbook).
Grammar, too, is better learned in context, so that it supports children’s use of language — for example teaching children to craft their use of language in relation to the intended audience for their writing — rather than through learning terms such as “subordinate clause”. Have we not learned anything from 10 years of explicit grammar teaching in the National Literacy Strategy, and its failure significantly to improve primary pupils’ writing?
Importantly, any new curriculum needs to take account of the real world that 21st century children are living in and recognise the value that children’s languages, dialects and vernacular bring to the classroom. Multi-vernacularism is the daily reality for all pupils and teachers in England. In urban and rural settings pupils speak, hear, and engage with accents, dialects and multiple languages.
Linguistic misunderstanding is also seen in the absence of talk in the draft Programme of Study. Following the hard fought battles to have talk as an explicit part of the national curriculum the limp exhortations for pupils to “discuss what they are learning and to develop their wider skills in spoken language” is simply not enough. Careful re-drafting of the curriculum for language will require clear understanding of the difference between talk as part of pedagogy (e.g. dialogic teaching), and elements of pupils’ talk that can be enhanced through direct teaching.
I would argue that this Programme of Study needs a complete rewrite, guided by the following principles:
- It should be informed by a coherent interdisciplinary research perspective. Part of this requires a foundation in the daily reality of the many types of English (and other languages) children use.
- Developing pupils’ motivation for learning should be an explicit element throughout. Opportunities for pupils to choose texts to read and write is a vital part of this.
- Expressing meaning and interpreting meaning should be the driving forces of the Programme of Study. This means that comprehension and composition should come first and foremost in any relevant sections.
- The teaching of mechanics such as phonics and spelling should be closely related to comprehension and composition, not excessively decontextualised.
- The “subject” should be titled Language, not English, as it is in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, to recognise its breadth. It should also be part of a single developmental integrated curriculum from the early years through to the end of schooling.
For more on multi-vernacularism and other issues raised see Wyse, D. (Ed.) (2011). Literacy Teaching and Education: SAGE Library of Educational Thought and Practice. London: Sage.