Having sorted out the national curriculum (at least until the year 2000), the Schools Curriculum and Assessment Authority has turned its attention to resources. After all, the way teachers "deliver" the curriculum in classrooms throughout the United Kingdom is partly - sometimes largely - determined by the quality of the teaching materials they use.
For the past year SCAA officers have been meeting educational resource providers - publishers, representatives of educational television and information technology - to work out ways of ensuring the best match between national curriculum goals and the books and resources produced for schools.
Does this mean the long, dark shadow of a national textbook (favourably mentioned by Education Secretary David Blunkett not so long ago) - and the prospect of all teachers of a certain age-group knowing that if it's the second Thursday in February, it must be page 123?
Apparently not - at least if SCAA has anything to do with it. "We're not interested in either kite-marking or condemning particular resources," says Tony Millns, SCAA's assistant chief executive. He believes a variety of resources is essential to meet the needs of different teachers teaching different classes. SCAA says the national curriculum should, over time, introduce "a greater commonality of content, but not necessarily of treatment or approach".
Working groups have been set up to find out how well resources already on the market match the demands of the curriculum, and to find where there are gaps in provision.
Between 1996 and 1999, SCAA officers, working with teachers, advisers and teacher trainers, are looking closely at published materials in each of the curriculum areas. In 1996-7 the focus has been on maths, science, art and geography. English, modern languages and music resources will be analysed during 1997-8, and design and technology, IT, history and PE will come under the microscope in 1998-99.
The first four groups have reported, and their findings are being circulated to educational resource providers, to inform future publications. Given the plethora of materials on the market, it has been impossible to review every resource for every age range, and different groups took different tacks depending on particular areas of interest in each subject.
The science and geography groups homed in on key stage 3. With textbook schemes being the main medium used in schools, they took the most popular series for the age-group in each subject and analysed them in depth.
The maths group investigated concerns (voiced by the Office for Standards in Education and others) that some key stage 2 maths schemes covered the subject unevenly and might even inhibit good teaching.
They looked at four maths schemes, the two market leaders, the most recently published scheme and one that "in the opinion of members of the group, had distinctive positive features which were worth considering for the survey". (True to the policy of non-kitemarking, their research document doesn't tell us which was which. Teachers who want to find out will have to send off for inspection copies of the schemes and cross-reference them with the appendices. ) The art group started its investigation with a survey of the kinds of resources in schools and how they were used. This led to a detailed analysis of areas where difficulties had been identified and made an interesting comparison between books about art produced for school and those produced for the home market. The group noted a clear contrast "between a popular culture that perceives art as about making identifiable end products look good and a culture within art education that emphasises the creative process".
The findings of all groups were mostly positive - "high-quality resources" and "well-presented" echo throughout the reports - but there were some areas of concern.
Past reviews of this kind were often undertaken by local education authority advisory staff. But most LEAs no longer have the resources. A more centralised approach has advantages - each working group includes the officers responsible for the national curriculum orders, so there's no danger of misunderstanding or ambiguity.
And centralised findings can be funnelled two ways - to publishers, broadcasters and other developers to inform future resource production, and to schools to inform their choice of materials.
"The main thrust of our work should be to the future," says Mr Millns. "There's no point in telling a school that's just invested in a set of resources that SCAA has concerns about it - although it will probably help if they know where to look for gaps. But we can ensure that publishers are well informed about what's required - and about what's intended - especially when the review of the curriculum begins next year. Now channels have been opened between SCAA and resource providers, we can try to ensure that any future curriculum is well-resourced from the start."
SCAA Analysis of Educational Resources in 19967: Key Stage 3 Science Schemes, Key Stage 2 Mathematics Schemes, Key Stage 3 Geography Textbooks, Survey and Analysis of Published Resources for Art 5-19 cost Pounds 1 each, from SCAA Publications, PO Box 235, Hayes, Middlesex UB3 lHF. Tel: 0181 867 3299
CHECK BEFORE YOU BUY
ART FOR AGES 5-19
* How far is your school aware of the range of resources available (books, reproductions including posters and postcards, learning resource packs, artefacts, video, slides, filmstrips, CD-Rom). What about sources such as museums, galleries, libraries, educational publishers and specialist organisations such as the Craft Council?
* Does a lack of knowledge among teachers (especially at primary level) limit your choice of resources?
* Are you making adequate use of TV, video and CD-Rom?
* How far do your resources cover aspects of art that teachers find difficult, such as non-western art, three-dimensional work and craft and design?
* Do the materials take into account quality of presentation, relevance to the requirements of pupils and the national curriculum, typical school's resources, level of teacher expertise and the need for differentiation?
* Are art books supported by a clear rationale? Is there a clear correlation between theory and practice?
* Do you have resources to support gallery visits and use of artists' residencies, which are helpful for increasing teacher confidence?
SCIENCE FOR 11 TO 14-YEAR-OLDS
* Does the content relate to the 1995 orders? If not, is material no longer included in the key stage 3 programme of study identified as being beyond the present national curriculum minimum requirements?
* For which parts of the ability range are the resources designed?
* Is there any guidance to help develop pupils' skills in experimental and investigative science?
* Is there progression over key stage 3 in terms of presentation of materials, implied teaching approach and complexity of language used?
* Does the resources' assessment material link to the level descriptions for life processes and living things, materials and their properties and physical processes?
* What is the provision for extended reading and writing and integrating IT skills?
* Is there adequate provision for meeting the requirements of the introduction to the programme of study?
* Does the scheme provide information specifically for science technicians?
GEOGRAPHY FOR 11 TO 14-YEAR-OLDS
* Is the coverage of places and geographical enquiry sufficiently detailed?
* Does organisation of materials for skills, places and themes encourage integrated treatment?
* How close is the match of the materials to national curriculum level descriptions for pupils at levels 4-6? Is there adequate provision for pupils below or above levels 4-6?
* Is assessment advice linked to national curriculum requirements, and if so how appropriate is it?
* Is clarity of presentation adversely affected by inadequate use of extended text, small photographs, over-use of graphical devices, under-use of topographical maps?
* Are there enough higher order tasks in pupils' activities? Are such tasks adequately supported by the materials?
* Is progression across key stage 3 easily identified? Is it linked to national curriculum level descriptions?
* Is the scheme too extensive, and unmanageable?
* Do teacher's materials impose a teaching style?
* Are there different types of assessment and a consistent assessment rationale?
* Does material encourage flexibility in mental, oral and written calculation?
* Is attention paid to cross-curricular links?
* Do pupils' materials reflect the aims of teacher materials?
* Are there opportunities for pupils' self-assessment and own charting of progress?
* Is the work too repetitive - would it stretch all pupils?
* Is there a balance between open and closed questions?
* Are contexts for "mathematical understanding" spurious and unrealistic?
* Is coverage of Ma1 adequate (deemed effective in only one scheme)?
* Are there gaps in coverage of Ma2, Ma3, Ma4?
* Does the balance of attention to Ma2; Ma3 and Ma4 change significantly over key stage 2?
* How far does this balance reflect national curriculum assessment weightings of 2:1:1?
* Are assessment approacheslinked to national curriculum level descriptions?
* How far is technology integrated?
* Do the materials address language needs of pupils of various abilities?