Mike Hartnell, senior assistant principal at The Henry Cort Community College, writes:
Year 9 choosing their options is a nightmare for the timetabler, but for the students, it’s their first real chance to take responsibility for their future.
So how much influence should the proposed new Progress 8 measures influence my curriculum structure? Does everyone do history or geography? Do we continue with our "language for all" policy, but not allow the department to offer the successful NVQ qualification? Should we no longer allow students to choose art and textiles (two really successful departments at The Henry Cort Community College) due to the discount codes changing or stop some spending a day a week at the local 16-19 college completing their vocational studies?
Progress 8 means that we have to carefully consider the makeup of the best eight subjects. I have heard it described as buckets by some: bucket one can only be filled with English or maths; bucket two with any three of the Ebacc subjects; with bucket three containing everything else on the published Department for Education (DfE) list. But the question is: how much should we design a curriculum (or restrict option choices) based on these new measures? Is next year’s timetable going to be designed for the students’ needs or for school performance measures?
At The Henry Cort Community College, we have proven strength in languages and our students recognise the value of choosing either French or German. History and geography are always popular choices too, without any ‘meddling’ by me, so the changes may not affect us as much as some.
But it could affect our innovative Day 10 programme. There are no timetabled lessons on Day 10 of our school fortnight; instead, we schedule all the activities that disrupt the daily timetable (including CPD and mentoring days, as well as trips). We could sacrifice this to allow more maths and English time, but at what cost to the rest of the week?
So does every student need to do eight subjects at the expense of a college course or a language course where students will be successful? Or can we manage the new GCSE points system well enough to ensure that all students get a curriculum that suits both them and the College?
I believe that an engaged learner, who is informed about the choices they are making, makes for a happy and successful learner across all curriculum areas.