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Breadth and balance: the essential elements of a recovery curriculum

Blog Editor, IOE Digital3 September 2020

Dominic Wyse.

Government guidance for schools reopening this month originally suggested that national curriculum subjects could be dropped in order to focus on key areas such as phonics. In the latest welcome U-turn, the guidance now says that “the curriculum remains broad and ambitious”. But at the same time it notes that “Substantial modification to the curriculum may be needed at the start of the year, so teaching time should be prioritised to address significant gaps in pupils’ knowledge with the aim of returning to the school’s normal curriculum content by no later than summer term 2021,” and goes on to give details.

The key question is, will the guidance’s emphasis on aspects such as “disapplication”, “the essentials”, and “phonics” lead to some subjects in the curriculum being neglected? The history of governments’ national curriculum reform in England suggests this will be the case.

The guidance continues, “For pupils in Reception, teachers should also assess and address gaps in language, early reading and mathematics, particularly ensuring children’s acquisition of phonic knowledge and extending their vocabulary. Settings should follow updates to the EYFS [Early Years Foundation Stage] disapplication guidance.”

And, “For pupils in key stages 1 and 2, school leaders are expected to prioritise identifying gaps and re-establish good progress in the (more…)

Proceed with caution: unravelling the evidence behind the DFE’s Covid guidance on teaching assistants

Blog Editor, IOE Digital17 July 2020

Rob Webster.

In the early stages of the UK government’s response to the Coronavirus health emergency, it was common to hear that decisions were ‘being led by the science’. As attention begins to shift to addressing the impact of school closures on the attainment gap, it is essential that schools adopt a similar evidence-based approach.

The DfE’s guidance for the full opening of schools in September contains the following advice for school leaders on deploying teaching assistants (TAs) and other support staff:

“Where support staff capacity is available, schools may consider using this to support catch-up provision or targeted interventions. Teaching assistants may also be deployed to lead groups or cover lessons, under the direction and supervision of a qualified, or nominated, teacher”.

This section of the DfE guidance goes on to point school leaders towards the practical recommendations contained in the Education Endowment Foundation’s (EEF) Making Best Use of Teaching Assistants report. Ordinarily, a link to the EEF’s work in DfE literature is a tacit signal to the reader that the advice being provided is trustworthy, robust (more…)

Why the arts should be at the heart of a recovery curriculum

Blog Editor, IOE Digital16 July 2020

Isobel Traunter.

To make up for lost education during the lockdown, the UK government recently advised primary schools in particular to prioritise ‘progress in the essentials’. Consequently, many have voiced concerns regarding the implications this may have for the arts in English primary schools. The artist known as Bob & Roberta Smith has spoken out against the idea of a ‘catch-up’ curriculum, suggesting that this could potentially ‘damage the creative potential of this country, stunting our ability to draw and design the future’.

Many educators and artists believe the arts are more important than ever at this time. They are calling for a renewed focus on the arts in schools as a response to the emotional fallout of the national pandemic.

Reception child’s painting

The government’s announcement echoes the messages which have resounded throughout the pandemic suggesting that pupils – especially those from deprived backgrounds – are falling behind or need to catch up. This catch-up rhetoric often seems to focus exclusively on the core subjects such as numeracy, literacy and science at the expense of the arts. But surely the arts have merit of their own which warrants their inclusion in a ‘catch-up’ curriculum? In fact they could provide what children and teachers need most.

In my own PhD research exploring visual art’s position in the early years curriculum in disadvantaged primary schools across England, the 25 teachers I have interviewed so far (more…)

Choosing welfare over worksheets and care over ‘catch-up’: teachers’ priorities during lockdown

Blog Editor, IOE Digital3 July 2020

Alice Bradbury and Sam Duncan.

Teachers’ working lives changed dramatically under lockdown, with a sudden shift to providing work for children at home or teaching small groups at school. At the same time, our research suggests, their priorities may also have changed. As we enter a new phase of the COVID-19 crisis, planning for the autumn term needs to take into account the importance teachers place on care over ‘catch-up’.

Our project, ‘A duty of care and a duty to teach: educational priorities in response to the COVID-19 crisis’, explores how schools have been operating during this unique period of sudden and dramatic changes to daily life, and how these changes have affected primary teachers’ and school leaders’ thinking about education. Our first set of findings arise from a survey conducted in May via TeacherTapp, involving 1,653 participants.

The survey results reveal that teachers’ primary concern at the start of lockdown was with pupil welfare. When asked about their priorities in communicating with parents, the most popular option was checking how families are coping in terms of basic food, health and emotional needs. Headteachers in particular were regularly involved in (more…)

‘Too many tests for no good reason’: what do parents really think about primary assessment?

Blog Editor, IOE Digital30 January 2020

Alice Bradbury.

The debate about testing in primary schools is usually dominated by teachers and unions – who decry the pressures associated with statutory test – and the government – who argue testing is necessary to hold schools to account.

The voices of one group – parents – are often overlooked. New research explores parents’ views in detail, however, with some interesting findings, which can be summed up by the phrase ‘Too many tests for no good reason’. 

This phrase provides the title for the research, which was commissioned by the More than a Score coalition of education and parent groups.  Their report is based on a survey of over 2,000 parents of children aged 3-13, conducted by YouGov. The results raise some serious questions for those who see the current testing regime in primary schools as fit for purpose. 

(more…)

‘What works’ in education does not always chime with what Ministers want to hear

Blog Editor, IOE Digital22 November 2017

Dominic Wyse. 
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…)

Priorities for a new government: advice from our academics part 2

Blog Editor, IOE Digital12 May 2017


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.
Primary Education
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…)

Word problems in standardised maths tests: how fair are the Key Stage 2 SATs?

Blog Editor, IOE Digital25 October 2016

Melanie Ehren
Word problems feature strongly on many high stakes standardised maths tests. We found these kinds of test items in research in the United States in 2010 (on the New York State and Massachusetts grades 3-5 tests for children aged 8-11). The two reasoning papers on England’s new Mathematics Key Stage 2 test, sat by 10 to 11-year-olds in May 2016, also include a range of word problems. The item below is an example from the sample 2016 test:
mathsat
Word problems require children to translate the words of the question into a workable maths problem and decide which operations to carry out. They may include a range of (more…)

As 'Show Your Working' test replaces mental maths at 11, what kind of learning are we valuing?

Blog Editor, IOE Digital29 September 2016

Melanie Ehren.
This year the Key Stage 2 mathematics test has undergone some big changes to reflect the new National Curriculum. One was the removal of the Mental Mathematics paper, given for the last time in 2015. It involved a 10-minute assessment, administered by playing a CD, in which 11-year-old pupils were expected to carry out 20 calculations in their heads, given 5 seconds, 10 seconds or 15 seconds for each one, and asked to write down the answer to each question, without access to paper to make jottings for working out.
Instead, last May, in addition to two papers testing reasoning, children sat an Arithmetic paper lasting 30 minutes. It asked 36 questions covering context-free calculations for all four operations, including the use of fractions, percentages and decimals. Squared paper was provided in the answer area, for children to show their working. ‘Working out’ is (more…)

Dear Secretary of State for Education…

Blog Editor, IOE Digital14 July 2016

Now we know. Justine Greening, MP for Putney, Roehampton and Southfields, has become the new Secretary of State for Education and Minister for Women and Equalities. Her brief is to include higher education and skills, formerly under the Department for Business Innovation and Skills. Downing Street says the education department will take on responsibility for: “Reforming the higher education sector to boost competition and continue to improve the quality of education that students receive; and delivering more apprenticeships through a fundamental change in the UK’s approach to skills in the workplace”.
Ms Greening, one of the few education secretaries to have attended a non-selective state secondary school – Oakwood Comprehensive in Rotherham – was previously Secretary of State for International Development. The new education secretary has a background in accountancy.
While teacher supply –  discussed in a recent IOE blog post – will be at the top of her very full in-tray, she will also need to master a wide range of topics from Academies to Teacher education. As early as next week, she will have to steer the Higher Education and Research Bill through its second reading. Here, IOE experts suggest priorities for Ms Greening to consider in key areas of education policy. (more…)