The changes to the English curriculum impact across all of our subject areas and fill our hearts and minds with a sense of unease. Yet if we want students to thrive, we need to embrace the changes, not work against them.
The changes are substantial. With the death of controlled assessments, our pupils are now faced with over 20 exams to do at the end of Year 11. This has implications for their time management and ability to organise themselves, as well as forcing them to deal with more academic stress than ever before.
And literacy pervades all subjects even more now, as subjects such as GCSE computing and art carry far more weight on lengthy written answers. The requirements on numeracy levels, meanwhile, have also increased with the maths demands in science and geography being far more challenging and substantial than before.
Finally, our pupils also need finely tuned memory skills to tackle new demands, such as memorising formulae in GCSE science and quotes for GCSE English literature.
The aim of all of this is, of course, to drive up standards. There’s not a teacher on this planet who would say that this is a negative ideal.
The method we may not agree with – and we may even believe it to be damaging – but the fact remains that these changes are happening and we have to accept that. Our duty is to make sure we handle them, teach them and support them as well as possible for our pupils.
We need to remain positive and calm in front of students and not refer back to the “good old days” of the old specifications. For our new key stage 4 pupils, these new specifications are all they have ever known, therefore they have no previous point of comparison. Our job is to be the consistently unflappable and informed guides through it all that our pupils so need. The pain of such great change needs to be borne by us and not passed on to those in our care.
There may be limited comfort in this for us, but there’s no harm in reminding ourselves who these changes really affect.
Claire Narayanan is head of English at Levenshulme High School, Manchester
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