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Gove's curriculum could be 'chaos', leaders warn

news | Published in TES magazine on 12 April, 2013 | By: William Stewart

Reform is being rushed and standards will fall, they tell DfE

Heads’ leaders have delivered a damning verdict on the new national curriculum, warning that it cannot be introduced in the time allotted, and that it could “create chaos” and result in lower standards.

Secondary heads have rejected the proposed curriculum’s strict focus on content and want implementation delayed beyond 2014. Primary heads say the government has reneged on its promise to provide them with room to innovate and has failed to get teachers on board.

The condemnation came as it emerged that a senior civil servant has admitted that one of the most controversial aspects of the curriculum was written internally by the Department for Education, without any input from experts.

Criticism of the draft curriculum has been growing since it was first published in February, with history coming in for particular censure. Classroom teachers used the Easter union conferences to belittle “Gradgrind Gove’s pub quiz curriculum”, claiming it would lead to truanting by bored students. Last month, 100 education academics wrote an open letter warning that the changes would damage standards by promoting “rote learning without understanding”.

But the latest criticism is particularly damaging because it comes in a formal response to the official consultation, from the heads who are essential to making the reform work.

Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said the proposals “cannot be implemented by 2014 within the same time and resources available to schools” and called for the consultation period, which closes on Tuesday, to be extended.

The ASCL said the “vast majority” of secondaries were happy with the existing national curriculum and warned that its replacement could be “detrimental” to standards.

The proposals “could create chaos if implemented in their current form and to the intended timescale”, it warned.

The union also fears that nothing is being done to address a “severe shortage” of teachers equipped to teach certain areas of the new curriculum, such as computing and languages, and has a series of major concerns about individual subjects (see box).

Worryingly for the government, the ASCL also appears to reject the idea at the heart of the reform - that the national curriculum is restricted to content and what to teach. It said that while it was helpful to specify content, “it is also essential that the national curriculum engages with how students apply that knowledge”.

Russell Hobby, general secretary of heads’ union the NAHT, does not oppose the new curriculum’s focus on facts. But he is concerned that too many are included and that the government has failed to listen to teachers and to sell its reform to the profession. “If teachers don’t believe in the curriculum it won’t work,” he said. “Because once that classroom door shuts, it is what inspires teachers that gets done.”

Mr Hobby, who had yet to finalise the NAHT’s response to the consultation, said the government had “specified the ‘what’ so extensively and so tightly that it has constrained or dictated the ‘how’”. He added: “We are still looking for evidence that the government is creating the freedom it promised at primary level.”

Meanwhile, Matt White, assistant director of the DfE’s national curriculum review, has revealed that the controversial design and technology curriculum was drawn up without consultation.

Asked in February who had advised on the programme of study he told a Westminster Education Forum event that it had been drafted internally without “an advisory structure”.

“I’m not suggesting that it was prepared, as it were, in consultation,” he said, before admitting that the DfE did not “have a body of specific design and technology expertise”.

The result takes design and technology back to the 1950s by introducing sock-darning and flower arranging at the expense of vital 21st-century technological skills, according to the Design and Technology Association.

Ministers say they are now talking to the association, which wants the curriculum to be abandoned because it is “unambitious and incoherent”, “completely inappropriate for a technologically advanced nation” and would make England the “laughing stock” of the Western world.

A DfE spokesperson said: “The draft national curriculum is challenging and ambitious. Extending the consultation period would delay implementation. A whole year of pupils would miss out on a more rigorous, knowledge-focused curriculum.”

Subject to change

ASCL concerns:

  • Art and design, music: “So cursory that teachers… are at a loss to understand how this is an improvement.”
  • Citizenship: “Greatly inferior to the existing programme.”
  • Computing: “So technical and content heavy… it almost completely removes all the practical ICT skills that students will need for adult life.”
  • Design and technology: “Return to more of a craft-based, maintenance skills approach, which will not prepare students for the real world.”
  • Geography: “Too little emphasis on cultural understanding and diversity.”
  • History: “Unteachable”; “will turn students away from history”.
  • Languages: “Proper progression between key stages 2 and 3 will become impossible for many.”
  • Physical education: “The focus on team games, rather than developing a good understanding of healthy living… is a major shortcoming.”
  • English, maths and science: “Unhelpful and potentially damaging imbalance” between knowledge and its application.


Original headline: Gove’s curriculum could lead to chaos, school leaders warn

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Comment (7)

  • Interesting that the DfE have admitted that the design and technology curriculum was drawn up without consultation. They have so far evaded an FOI request which will eventually reveal the same about history.

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    12 April, 2013


  • Interestingly the ICT curriculum (now called Computing) was drafted over 3 months by 2 different drafting groups and was submitted to the DfE on 30th November by the British Computer Society and Royal Academy of Engineering who were commissioned by the DfE to "coordinate the drafting".

    The version which emerged from the DfE on 7th February had over 50 changes to the agreed draft which had managed to bring some consensus to the otherwise diverse ICT community,including all the big IT industry players.

    The BCS have explained on their website that the Minister asked for a greater emphasis on Computer Science and in their wisdom chose not to reconvene any of the 40 members of the two drafting groups.

    An unknown person in the BCS,or the Minister or a civil servant edited the document and consequently not only disregarded the broad and balanced expert advice but also destroyed any confidence and trust in the transparency of the process.

    The public consultation ends next week and i suspect the "overwhelming response" required for the Minister to be minded to revert to the original and agreed draft is contained in the many word documents currently flowing into sanctuary buildings which await analysis.

    Unless there are substantial and significant changes to the draft which reflect the consensus and I suspect the "overwhelming response" of the public I suspect the civil servant responsible for FOI's within the DfE will be very,very busy.

    The current Programmes of study neither meet the needs of the Technology Industry or the needs of all our children to become successful digital citizens and digital contributors to UK Plc.

    The very narrow focus on Computer Science is not only undesirable but unless there is major investment in in- service and initial teacher training is also undeliverable in my,and many headteachers view.

    I urge the DfE and the Teaching Agency to seriously give consideration to my call to "rebuild consensus,create a cohesive response and increase the momentum for teacher training"

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    12 April, 2013


  • I've copied up my response here:

    But in a nutshell the Computing curriculum in particular is not deliverable in the proposed timeframe and it has glaring gaps in skills and literacies that our young people will need in their personal and working lives, but at least they'll know two different sorting algorithms!

    Little seems to have been mentioned or discussed about the removal of National Curriculum Levels either. Replacing NC levels in non-core subjects, where they have been pretty meaningless for years, is no bad thing. But there is no consideration how schools should measure progress in there absence and still no clear picture on how schools will be held accountable for progress as that separate document lacks clarity.

    Nobody is saying change isn't needed, but ASCL, NAHT & the D&T Assoc have nailed the implications of the current proposals. We're in grave danger of a dull curriculum, glum students and an already demoralised teaching workforce losing their remaining enthusiasm for delivering learning to our young people.

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    12 April, 2013


  • Is it true that Gove is arranging for thousands of reprints of 1950s textbooks ready for his 'new' curriculum?

    Being more serious I think there is a need for change, but it cannot be done effectively without involving the professionals: teachers/lecturers, university and educational specialists, etc.

    For too long education has been indoctrinated with equality & diverse, the need to make sure everyone passes and the need to please and entertain our customers.

    The result is school and college leavers who are unprepared for work and way behind the their future competitors in asian countries.

    By seeking to please young people we are letting them down and failing to prepare them adequately for their very tough and uncertain future.

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    12 April, 2013


  • When the National Curriculum was first mooted, I spent many hours reading, thinking and eventually responding to the Science proposals as an individual.

    Later I was informed that responses were divided into 4 (it may have been 5) groups and the answers coded onto a computer: statutory correspondance (100% coded), professional bodies (100%), subject groupings, unions etc (50%), individuals (25%). I guess that is not unreasonable, but I was disappointed.

    On one particular item, 98% of coded responses argued against its implementation. It was implemented! The Secretary of State reported that he had carried out a consultation exercise, as required, but he was in charge.

    I'm sure Mr Gove will be far more attentive.

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    12 April, 2013


  • ah Yes well,just because They have 'consulted' and noted opinion does not mean that any account is taken of it!

    I am just finishing an OU M.ed in educational research, and all this is highly interesting,all research points to the benefits of wide ranging curriculum, taking account of socio -cultural aspects,,not a narrow,functional set of skills such as the 'new' curriculum. I wonder if all this is a route to segregated education again,, 'grammar' for the so called academics, with resonancs with the Dead Poet Society ethos, and technical schools for the plumbers and hairdressers of the future( no disrespect intended for either of these jobs)

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    15 April, 2013


  • Nobody has mentioned the impact on RE. Here is a summary of the consequences the Ebacc has already had on RE. (An analysis of a Survey of teachers on the impact of the EBacc )

    Conclusions Religious Studies in the curriculum continues to decline since the introduction of the English Baccalaureate, especially at key stage 4 where the impact of the EBacc is at its greatest.
    This impact is seen not only in the reduction of past and planned examination entries, but also in the timetable where schools report that even though the subject is legally compulsory for all students unless withdrawn by their parents, students are not always receiving their entitlement to a religious education, especially in Key Stage 4.

    a. 33% of schools responding to the survey report that legal requirements are not being met at key stage 4 (40% of community and 42% of Academy schools without a religious character). (Paragraph 2).
    Even though studying a GCSE accredited course is a statutory requirement of many Agreed Syllabuses, 38% of maintained schools enter less than 75% of their Year 11 cohort (see data in table 3 page 5 and appendix 2)

    b. 12% of schools report that legal requirements are not being met at key stage 3. (14% of community and Academy schools without a religious character) (paragraph 2)

    c. 24% of schools reported a reduction in the number of specialist staff employed to teach Religious Education. Of those, 82% stated that the introduction of the EBacc was the main reason for this change. (paragraph 3)

    d. As the number of specialist teachers declines, teachers with other specialisms are being required to deliver the subject. In 47% of schools, at least one in ten Religious Education lessons and up to one in five lessons are delivered by teachers whose main time is spent in another curriculum area. (paragraph 4)

    e. 54% of the schools that responded stated that they will have no entries for GCSE Religious Studies at Short Course in 2014. This represents a rise of twelve per cent over two years. Eighteen per cent reported no entries for the Full Course, a rise of three per cent over the last two years. (paragraph 5)

    f. Of those schools that reported a drop in Full Course entries, the impact of the EBacc was cited as the main reason in 55% of cases in 2011, rising to 63% of cases for the 2014 cohort (students about to start key stage 4). (paragraph 6)

    g. In some schools a decision has been made to cut the Short Course in favour of the Full Course. Of those schools that reported a reduction in the Short Course, this represented 23% of schools in the survey where students are due to take the examination in 2013 and 26% of those from 2014.

    h. Some schools reported changes having been made to the structure of the timetable. This has been more marked in key stage 4 than in key Stage 3. The greatest impact was seen in Year 10 (the start of GCSE courses in most schools) where 19% of schools reported a reduction in provision, less time; in comparison with other subjects. Some schools also reported enhanced timetable provision. This affected 12% of schools for year 10. (paragraph 7)

    i. There is a clear trend towards offering GCSE Religious Studies courses over three years instead of two, as has previously been the norm. This pattern has been introduced in 33% of the schools that responded to this question for students taking the examination in 2014 having risen from 25% in 2012. The most common mode of delivery is still 120-140 hours over two years which accounts for 41% of candidates. It is possible however, that students who are taught the course over three years might face an increase in demand since they would need to use knowledge, understanding and skills retained over a longer period.(paragraph 8)

    j. 20% of the schools in our survey now attempt to deliver this course over less than the recommended teaching time. There is a growing body of evidence, including from Ofsted subject surveys, that this practice is detrimental to students’ Religious Education; failing to meet the aims of GCSE courses which include developing a coherent understanding of religious beliefs, ideas and practices. (paragraph 9)

    k. Subject specific training is essential for the delivery of high quality provision in any subject. 71% of the 480 schools that responded to this question reported that they had received no subject specific training in school in the last academic year. 44% reported that they had attended no training outside of school. Just over 10% reported that they had attended two days or more of training outside of school. (paragraph 10)

    The consequences to our pupils' and students' understanding of themselves and each other, and of the world in which we live, are serious and increase the danger of conflict in our society and stress/unhappiness in individual lives.

    A recent all-parliamentary group looked into RE provision and concluded -

    FOREWORD Stephen Lloyd MP
    Very few issues matter more than education. Our hardworking teachers not only impart information, they also help shape the views of the next generation. The importance of mutual respect and understanding, for faiths and belief, is crucial in a society where there are now many different religions and cultures. This is why I believe religious education is so important. ..... Despite religious education being more important than ever before, our group were informed that the subject was often marginalised in schools, and teachers undermined by the dismantling of the RE frameworks and support structures. There appeared to be fewer subject specialists now than in previous years. This is why the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Religious Education has conducted this inquiry into the ‘Supply of and Support for Religious Education Teachers’.

    We have consulted with a range of individuals and organisations, with direct experience of teaching religious education, and accredited experts. We reached out to over 430 schools and have heard from
    statisticians from the Department for Education and academia.

    I have personally learned a great deal from reading through the evidence and listening to contributors at the meetings. I am now even more determined to do everything I can so that every pupil is taught religious education to a high standard. We hope that the Department for Education find this report useful, and incorporate our recommendations into Government policy on RE. Yours sincerely
    Stephen Lloyd MP Chair of the APPG on Religious Education March 2013

    1 Supply of primary RE teachers

    a) In over half of the 300 primary schools participating in this inquiry, some or all pupils were taught RE by someone other than their class teacher. In a quarter of these schools RE was taught by teaching assistants.
    This is unacceptable and in many cases this has a detrimental impact on the quality of RE (2.2-2.5).

    b) About a half of primary teachers and trainee teachers lack confidence in teaching RE (2.6-2.10).

    c) About a half of subject leaders in primary schools lack the expertise or experience to undertake their role effectively (2.11-2.13).

    d) There is a wide variation in the extent of initial teacher training in RE and too many trainee teachers have little effective preparation for teaching the subject (2.14-2.16).

    2 Supply of secondary teachers

    a) Over 50% of teachers of RE in secondary schools have no qualification or appropriate expertise in the subject. This is unacceptable (3.1-3.6).

    b) The inclusion of non specialists in the total number of RE teachers given by the DfE gives the false impression that we have enough RE teachers and skews the statistics regarding the need to train more RE specialists (4.1-4.4).

    c) Secondary RE trainees on school based routes are not guaranteed places in schools where the RE staff have sufficient expertise to provide training (5.3-5.4).

    d) Applications for secondary RE teacher training courses are currently 143 down on the same time last year.

    The loss of bursaries for RE is among the reasons for this reduction in applicant numbers for 2013/14 (5.4-5.5).

    3 Support for teachers of RE

    a) In nearly 40% of schools RE teachers have inadequate access to continuing professional development (6.1-6.3).

    b) RE teachers, particularly non specialists, in schools without a religious character have particularly limited access to CPD (6.13-6.21).

    c) The ability of SACREs to provide support for teachers of RE at a local level has been dramatically reduced by local authority funding decisions and the impact of the academisation programme (6.31-6.36).

    d) Teachers' access to CPD is a postcode lottery; it depends on the resources of their local SACRE or diocese, proximity to training and the priority given to RE in schools.

    4 Contributory factors

    a) A range of government policies, notably those relating to the EBacc and GCSE short courses, are contributing to the lowering of the status of RE in some schools leading to a reduction in the demand for specialist teachers (4.5-4.11).

    b) Recent reductions and changes in teacher training have resulted in the closure of some outstanding university providers with a loss of opportunities for RE CPD (5.1- 5.3).

    c) The combined effect of inadequate supply and inadequate access to support is that whatever their level of commitment, many teachers struggle to reach the levels of subject competence expected in the DfE's own teaching standards.

    I could go on but I think these extracts will show you how serious the consequences of recent changes to the curriculum are for the subject of RE,.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    15 April, 2013


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