Not so calm after the storm

Diane Hofkins

The wind of change may seem spent but SCAA can't yet relax, says Diane Hofkins. For teachers just coming to terms with the new, more compact national curriculum, the notion that things could change again in five years is enough to boggle the mind. Nevertheless, curriculum advisers are already addressing the shape of the curriculum circa 2000 as they get on with the next few years' work.

But there will not be change for its own sake. Tony Millns, assistant chief executive, in charge of communications, at the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority says: "We will only revise the curriculum if it needs it. The review in three to four years' time may be very limited."

On the other hand, there is a strand of thought, spearheaded by SCAA's chief executive, Nicholas Tate, that the debate should be broader and not limited by the present structure of the curriculum. Dr Tate has already begun to raise these issues in his often controversial public statements, floating questions about the place in the curriculum of "Britishness", classics and foreign languages for primary children.

In addition, the role of information technology may need rethinking and many other possibilities could arise before decisions have to be taken (around 1998).

The old "cross-curricular themes" of citizenship, health education, economic awareness, environmental education and careers education - thought to have died under the heavy weight of the statutory curriculum Orders - turn out to be alive and kicking. Ministers are consulting on whether careers education and guidance should be made compulsory. And they have asked SCAA to produce advice for schools on environmental education, expected in mid-1996. If a Labour government were to break the moratorium for anything, it is thought to be citizenship education.

Any change will be based on solid evidence, say officials. "SCAA doesn't want to go into a national curriculum review without having a very clear idea as to whether the policy issues of the Dearing Review have actually worked in practice - for all key stages, in all subjects," says the authority's secretary, Tim Cornford.

SCAA will be devoting much of its attention to assessment issues in the next few years but there are other priorities:

Curriculum monitoring

The authority wants to make sure the curriculum is really manageable and that schools have about 20 per cent of time to use more flexibly. Several evaluations have been commissioned and SCAA will be monitoring a number of schools closely.

For primary and lower-secondary teachers, there will be more advice and guidance to help schools implement curriculum and assessment changes. SCAA intends to build on the work already done in developing whole curriculum planning advice for primary schools (Planning the curriculum at key stages 1 and 2), and will follow through to see how it is working out.

Materials have already been published to help schools use the new, non-tick-list-based assessment for the core subjects. SCAA is now working on booklets which show how to use the descriptions in the foundation subjects for key stage 3, including some non-statutory test materials, which should be available in spring 1996. Teacher assessment in the non-core subjects will become statutory for lower secondary pupils in the 1996-97 school year. There are no plans to reimpose statutory teacher assessment outside the core subjects in primary schools.


"Use of Language" is a new requirement which emphasises pupils' ability to express themselves in most subjects. The aim is not just to ensure that children use English well in history essays, for example, but to see that they understand the technical language which leads to a better learning of each subject, explains SCAA English officer Sue Horner. Officials are meeting today (September 29) with subject associations to discuss how the initiative applies to the different Orders. Advice or a discussion paper may be produced early next year.

Primary-secondary transfer

Some schools have forged excellent links, but in others there is little continuity in children's work, with topics repeated or gaps left unfilled. The national curriculum, with its structure of progression, should improve the transition but a SCAA survey of local authorities revealed a patchy picture.

Even where links are good, the emphasis is usually on the pastoral side. Now, SCAA thinks it is time to switch the emphasis to curriculum continuity. The authority wants to encourage Years 6 and 7 teachers to work together to look at children's work and how to assess it, and at how work at key stage 2 glides smoothly into stage 3. SCAA is developing advice (also pertinent to middle school transfers), which is due out in the spring term and will go to all schools.

Work on transition from key stages 3 to 4 will follow to tackle the growing divide between the two stages, fostered by the differences between the national curriculum tests at 14 and GCSEs at 16.

A final "unexciting but important" aspect of SCAA's work, according to Mr Cornford, is openness and accountability. "We have to account for what we do. We must provide value for money, responding to need, not creating it."


* Autumn 1995Slimline curriculum takes effectfor key stages 1-3Planning advice for key stage 4First Part 1 GNVQ pilots

* Spring 1996Exemplary material for teacher assessment of foundationsubjects at key stage 3Guidance on key stage 2-3 transition

* Autumn 1996Teachers at key stage 3 begin statutory assessment offoundation subjectsSlimline curriculum takes effectfor key stage 4, including new GCSE syllabuses and short courses in a range of subjects.

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