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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…)

Who benefits when summer-born children start school later?

Blog Editor, IOE Digital22 September 2015

Tammy Campbell

Expectant parents in England with a September due-date will no longer have to hope that their baby doesn’t arrive too early. The UK schools minister Nick Gibb recently announced that he will amend the school admissions code to clarify that no child will be forced to start school when they have just turned four.
His changes make clear that summer-born children (whose birthdays fall between April 1 and August 31) have the right to begin reception in the September following their fifth birthday – rather than being required to start the previous year, at four.
They will also be permitted to remain (more…)

Does developing bad behaviour in primary school affect a child's grades?

Blog Editor, IOE Digital4 September 2015

Praveetha Patalay.
A few mischievous children acting out in a classroom and disrupting an entire lesson is a common scenario that teachers deal with. However, trouble-making children who hit out and misbehave are not only disruptive to teachers and classrooms, they are also likely to get lower grades.
In recent research, my colleagues and I examined the links between the development of problem behaviour in 5,400 children between the ages of eight and 11 from 138 primary schools in England. The children were in Years 4, 5 and 6 – the last three years of primary school and what’s called Key Stage 2. We found that those who developed disruptive behaviour in these three “middle childhood” years did worse in the tests, also known as SATs, at the end of Year 6.
The problem behaviours we looked at in our study were when children got angry, hit out, broke things, hurt people or lost their (more…)

The best that has been thought and said?

Blog Editor, IOE Digital21 June 2013

Dominic Wyse
I welcome the government’s continued emphasis on primary and early years education. I also like the intention to reduce bureaucracy for teachers, and to give schools more control over the curriculum. However I am concerned that these intentions are in danger of not being met if the current proposals for the national curriculum are implemented.
Michael Gove has referred to Mathew Arnold’s well known phrase from 1869, “the best which has been thought and said in the world”. One of his most recent mentions of the phrase came in a letter in response to the report from the expert group on the national curriculum. In his letter Gove said,
I agree with your clear recommendation that we should define the aims of the curriculum. We need to set ambitious goals for our progress as a nation. And we need clear expectations for each subject. I expect those aims to embody our sense of ambition, a love of education for its own sake, respect for the best that has been thought and written, appreciation of human creativity and a determination to democratise knowledge by ensuring that as many children as possible can lay claim to a rich intellectual inheritance. (Letter from Michael Gove to Tim Oates chair of the expert panel)
In view of the lack of attention to oral language in the proposals for ‘English’ in the national curriculum the replacement of ‘said’, with ‘written’ in the quote above, was perhaps prophetic. However, the full context of Arnold’s long sentence stresses the importance of “turning a stream of fresh thought upon our stock notions and habit …” For example, our knowledge of the importance of children and adults being able to think across boundaries might lead to fresh thinking about the use of traditional subjects to organise the curriculum. Or our knowledge from research that the national curriculum in England has repeatedly been seen by teachers as too content laden might lead to fresh thinking about the extensive list of topics proposed for the teaching of history at key stage 2, and the appendices of grammar and spelling proposed for English.
The quote above is indicative of other problems with the proposals. It is regrettable that appropriate aims for the curriculum were not consulted on and agreed prior to building programmes of study. The negative consequences of a mismatch between aims and programmes of study are well understood. As John White argued, on the basis of his finding that most national curriculum subjects had an intra-subject emphasis, “Schools’ first duty is not in the preparation of [subject] specialists, but with providing a sound general education in line with subject-transcending aims” (White, 2005, p. 127).
The statements on aims in the proposed national curriculum prompt too many questions: for example, where is the evidence, rather than assertion, that the “core knowledge” presented in the proposals is what is needed to be “educated citizens”? Who should decide, and who has decided, what is “the best that has been thought and said” in the proposals? Particularly problematic is the suggestion that the proposed curriculum “helps engender an appreciation of human creativity” when no definition is given of how this is interpreted in the curriculum, and attention to creativity in most subjects is negligible as measured, for example, by the lack of explicit use of the terms creative and creativity. Two of the welcome elements of the New Labour national curriculum of 2009 were, a) the more frequent requirement for creativity that required pupils to engage in active forms of creativity (including making and composing), and b) the use of areas of learning rather than traditional subjects to structure the curriculum, a feature which provided a better match with the Early Years Foundation Stage.
The stark disparity between the proposed programmes of study at primary level and key stage three level, particularly in relation to content and structure (for example for the subject English), is a clear example of the inappropriate model of development that appears to have been applied to the structure of the programmes of study. Children at the primary phase should not have their education unduly restricted to the learning of factual knowledge and key skills at the expense of development of their motivation, creativity, problem solving, critical thinking and application through hands-on experience. I recognise the vital importance of key skills and knowledge when set in an appropriate curriculum context, but am concerned about what appears to be an inappropriate ‘secondary school readiness’ model of development.
The structure of core and foundation subjects is different from the structure in the Early Years Foundation Stage. This is unfortunate as close alignment between the two phases, for example using a through-curriculum like Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence, is likely to lead to better teaching and learning. The importance of links made across subject areas in relation to pupils’ thinking and in teaching is not addressed. The reason for continuing designation of core and foundation subjects is not explained, something that the Cambridge Primary Review was concerned about (Alexander, 2010).
The treatment of different subjects in the proposals is unbalanced. For example, in relation to the teaching of English, language and literacy, the inclusion of very lengthy appendices of spelling and grammar knowledge to be learned is not supported by research evidence of effective teaching and learning, and the inclusion of such appendices is not a feature of any of the other curriculum subjects in the proposals. The wealth of research into literacy teaching and learning shows that transcription elements of writing such as spelling and grammar are important but their emphasis by teachers must be very carefully balanced to ensure that the communication of meaning remains central to the teaching and learning. The increased emphasis that the appendices represent risks these areas being inappropriately magnified resulting in less than optimal learning.
In short, the proposed national curriculum is not appropriate and needs to be substantially rewritten. I am conscious that there may be an understandable response to this idea that could be described as ‘policy change fatigue’. However, curriculum development that is genuinely owned by schools has positive energy and passionate commitment behind it rather than the often depressing effect of government prescription.
Refs: 
Alexander, R. (ed) (2010) Children, their World, their Education: Final report and recommendations of the Cambridge Primary Review. London: Routledge.
White, J. (2005) The Curriculum and the Child: The Selected Works of John White. London: RoutledgeFalmer.

In Holland nearly half of primary teachers are men. Why is our workforce so feminised?

Blog Editor, IOE Digital19 July 2012

Chris Husbands
The Teaching Agency reported this week that the number of men training to become primary school teachers has increased by more than 50% in England in the last four years and was rising at five times the rate of women trainees.
Throughout the twentieth century, primary teaching in England was a largely feminised profession, with the proportion of male teachers in the primary classroom generally around 15%. In recent years, governments have worked hard to turn the demographics of primary teaching round, and recent evidence suggests that there has been a substantial increase. 
Why is it so difficult to recruit men into primary teaching?
Much of the answer almost certainly turns on primary education’s strong associations with nurturing and pastoral care and this often plays into assumptions about women’s career motivations. The pattern is repeated across Europe. In Italy, over 94% of primary teachers are female; in France over 82%. But not all countries exhibit so feminised a primary workforce. In Finland only 69% of primary teachers are women, in Greece just 57% and the Netherlands just 53%. Moreover, the pattern can change: in France, in the mid-1950s, almost 35% of primary teachers were men.
This pattern has deep historical and cultural roots. French evidence suggests that in the 1960s and 1970s, men opted for other careers because they felt that primary teaching had “lost prestige” as a male profession – a perverse side effect of attempts to even up career and promotion opportunities for women. Moreover, the strong connections between primary teaching and nurturing made it attractive in many ways to women in a highly gendered society. And one should never forget the attractions of a career which, in a society marked by sharp gender differences, allowed for a good balance between personal and professional lives – not least in terms of school holidays and the benefits for teachers’ own childcare arrangements. Put like this, what often needs to be explained is not the decline in the attractiveness of primary teaching to men but the relative attractiveness to women.
The recent upturn in the recruitment of men into primary education can be attributed to a number of things: current challenges in the graduate labour market consequent on the global economic crisis, a vigorous government advertising campaign, and some general erosion of traditional gender roles and assumptions. Of these, it’s likely that the first is the most powerful driver; in tough times for graduate recruitment, traditional assumptions are increasingly questioned. But, as the French experience suggests, perceptions can change over time and the advertising campaign should not be under-estimated.
There is a recurring concern about the absence of men in primary schools, and the claimed lack of role models for boys. The evidence on the importance of gender role models in primary school is mixed. It’s important, for all sorts of reasons, that public service professions are not gendered. But in the classroom, what really matters is the quality of teaching.