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Square pegs in round holes

One local authority has made the new curriculum fit its middle school system. It is only too obvious that the national curriculum key stages were not built around the 8-12 middle school system. Children move into the middle schools when they are a year into key stage 2, and they transfer to secondary school a year into key stage 3. It's a big challenge to continuity and progression, compounded when a dozen middle schools feed into one secondary.

The School Curriculum and Assessment Authority added to schools' problems earlier this year when it issued its curriculum planning document. This led to many Buckinghamshire heads asking for a local education authority plan and for guidance on how to structure the curriculum. The SCAA document talked about long and medium-term planning, and continuing, blocked and interlinking units of work. For any school working alone, it is a massive job.

David Gamble, one of Buckinghamshire's senior advisers, explains what was being asked. "SCAA was saying that you've got to be clear about what you're setting out to do in the long and medium term. You have a set of aims and you've got to develop a curriculum which meets them, as well as cover the requirements of the programme of study. You've also got to plan so that it is progressive, continuous, differentiated and coherent."

So Mr Gamble, and teams of heads, advisers and teachers, set about planning a curriculum for Years 3 and 7. They wanted the curriculum to be transferable to other years and they avoided writing detailed schemes of work for every subject because this would be "going over the top" and take away flexibility. They agreed with SCAA that they must have a separate plan for each subject to chart its progress across the key stages.

Buckinghamshire has gone a long way towards showing how this trick can be brought off (although, ironically, it is likely that the county will revert to an 11-plus transfer system in the near future - see last week's TES). The pair of folders that have emerged from the deliberations contain long and medium-term plans for each subject in Years 3 and 7.

The long-term plans set out the progression across the key stages. For example, in the Year 3 folder each subject is mapped across Years 1 to 6, covering two key stages. The medium-term plan covers an academic year and details the topics for each subject. A history topic on Ancient Greece lists learning objectives, activities, and resources, and suggests extension work and assessment strategies.

A science grid shows how experimental and investigative science are covered across the topics. The English grid shows how speaking and listening, reading and writing are inter-related and covered in the Year 7 programme, and has some special features, such as connections with history in a linked unit on Medieval Realms.

Some subjects, such as design and technology and information technology, get a slightly different approach, but there is a common overall mission: to make sure when pupils move to a new school it's clear what has been covered. All that is missing are the short-term plans - in other words, the teachers' daily and weekly schedules.

But surely the Bucks guidance is adding to the teacher's pyramid of paper? Philip Whitehead, head of Grendon Underwood School, thinks not: "It's exactly what teachers have been asking for, which is a map for their year, one that fits into the framework of what's been done before and what will be done afterwards."

There used to be a great reluctance to write any curriculum prescriptions. But Mr Gamble feels the medicine needs changing "People now recognise that if you provide clear frameworks of what to teach, teachers can concentrate on how to teach. We've helped towards constructing the curriculum but left each school to determine its own breadth and balance."

* Curriculum guidance forYear 3, Pounds 35, and Curriculum guidance for Year 7, Pounds 40 (inclusive prices). Available from Education Department, Buckinghamshire County Council, County Hall, Aylesbury, HP20 1UZ. Telephone 01296 395000.

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